How a three-generation SCU family merged their values and business acumen to make dreams come true in the wine industry
From the pleasing symmetry of planted rows, to grape clusters seemingly plucked from a Dutch still life painting, the allure of winemaking is steeped in romance. But considering that wine sales exceed $70 billion each year in the U.S. alone, serious viticulture is hardly a pursuit for dilettantes. Smaller vintners struggle to stand out in a highly competitive marketplace, vying for market share alongside established brands and increasingly popular options like craft beer, artisanal spirits, and spiked seltzer.
Yet, in spite of the obstacles, independent wineries are still finding ways to break through. Vintners Phil and Debra Long took a leap of faith, building a vineyard from a business that began in their garage. The Longs began making wine in 2006 under the Longevity label before establishing their own facility in California’s Livermore Valley, where the company was producing 500 cases per year. Longevity’s popular tasting room cultivated a devoted local following with signature blends like “Debruvee,” a perfect melding of Rhone based varietals Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre and Petite Sirah, and their popular Bordeaux blend “Philosophy.”
While the Longs were making inroads among local wine lovers, the scion of another storied winemaking family took notice. Renata Franzia ’90, daughter of Bronco Wine Company co-founder Fred T. Franzia ’65, saw an opportunity to expand the family business while helping another grow. Before long, Phil and the Franzias were in discussions about making Longevity a national brand.
Renata Franzia’s wine family roots trace back to her great grandmother, Teresa, who founded the family winery in 1906 while her husband, Guiseppe, was on the road selling grapes. Teresa and Guiseppe’s five sons and grandchildren would run Franzia Wine Company until 1973, when they established Bronco Wine Company, the fourth largest wine producer in the United States. Bronco (a combination of the words “brothers” and “cousin”) are growers, producers, blenders, bottlers, and exporters of wine under a variety of labels, producing some of the most popular varietals available in the US market.
The Perfect Pairing
Like any successful business, Bronco Wine Company is always looking to remain competitive and partnerships with independent, high-quality producers is key to expanding their product offerings and reaching new consumers. For Longevity, the biggest challenge was “starting from scratch in an area where I was a new guy,” Phil explains. Further, as a Black-owned business, Longevity was one of a handful of minority-owned wineries in an overwhelmingly White industry. But, for independent vintners like Phil and Debra, having a major player like Bronco Wine Company behind them offered the large scale production and distribution Longevity needed. The addition of Phil’s beautifully crafted wines with Bronco’s powerhouse production, distribution, and quality assurance abilities would ultimately form the perfect pairing.
In 2018, Bronco began to produce and distribute two of Longevity’s varietals—a California Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon—to national outlets like Kroger, Safeway, Lucky, Target, and Costco. Phil typically produced 150 cases of Longevity’s white label Chardonnay per year but, since partnering with Bronco, he’s now making 2,700 cases each of white label Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to keep pace with rising demand.
Lisa H. Franzia ’96, daughter of Bronco Wine Company co-founder Joseph S. Franzia ’64, MBA ’65, is the general manager of the Rosenblum Cellars Tasting Room located in historic Jack London Square in Oakland, California. The tasting room promotes Rosenblum Cellars’ award-winning Zinfandels, as well as other Bronco varietals. But, Lisa says, since they began offering Longevity wines—including a Cabernet with lovely black cherry notes and a Chardonnay that is light and crisp and tastes wonderful with or without food—interest has so intensified that she plans to bring Long to Rosenblum Cellars for special events once they’re fully re-opened after the COVID-19 pandemic. “I am thrilled that a well-deserved and long overdue light is shining on African American vintners,” she explains. “There is room in the wine industry for everyone.”
While the Longevity-Bronco Wine Company partnership makes good business sense, it also reflects deeply held family values and traditions. Generations of the Franzia family have attended Santa Clara University, which has “given us all a broader vision and ability to take calculated risks,” Renata Franzia explains. “My great grandparents built a successful business from the ground up. It’s our heritage and we’re proud of it, so it’s especially satisfying to see another family winemaking business like Longevity really begin to thrive.”
Written by Jennifer Wooliscroft