The Franzia Wine Family

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1960-1970

During the mid-1960’s, the Franzia grape fields, along with Ernest and Julio Gallo’s, were picke

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1933-1936

As did most Italian immigrants who were successful, Giuseppe was proud of his accomplishments and dr

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To enrich the alcohol content of their fortified wines, the Franzias installed a distillery in their winery. By making wine and distilling the alcohol from it, they could use this alcohol to add to other wine which was not done fermenting, thus killing the fermentation yeast and preserving the naturally-sweet flavor of the grapes. Wineries are forbidden by law to add sugar to their wine. Operating the still was Fred Germano, a relative of Frank Franzia’s wife, Charlotte Rivara Franzia.

The Franzia Brothers Winery grew slowly through the Great Depression. When the United States entered World War II, the Japanese conquered the United States’ Asian sources of natural rubber. The War Production Office directed wineries to manufacture industrial alcohol to be used in the manufacture of artificial rubber, a much-needed product for materiel. The government saw to it that the wineries were supplied with molasses to ferment to produce the alcohol. Anyone essential to the alcohol production was given a military exemption. With U.S. Government sponsorship, a consortium of companies involved in rubber research and production united to produce a general-purpose synthetic rubber on a commercial scale. In Akron, Ohio, and other U.S. locations, these companies, in collaboration with a network of researchers in government, academic, and industrial laboratories, developed and manufactured in record time enough synthetic rubber to meet the needs of the U.S. and its allies during World War II.

The Franzias raised all their own livestock and poultry. This served them well during the Great Depression and during World War II, when meat was rationed. They converted the first floor of their tankhouse into a large walk-in freezer. It is likely that Franzia Brothers received a higher ration of gasoline due its production of a vital war product. The pigs were kept at Louie Franzia’s homesite; the cattle and horses were kept on what was known as Ranch Four. The chicken yard was south of Giuseppe and Teresa’s home between the nut-hulling barn and the house. Numerous fruit and nut trees dotted the landscape. They did not feel the pinch of rationing as badly as did city-dwellers.

Employee Manuel Plancarte, who came to work for the Franzias in 1943, became the labor camp cook. He made an effort to learn Italian and was a family favorite until the business was sold. He helped with the butchering. When a hog or calf was butchered, it was hoisted up the framework of the old, unused windmill so it could be gutted and otherwise processed for freezing. After Franzia Brothers was sold, Manuel worked at Ace Hardware until he died.

Three brothers named Nunes: Manuel, Frank, and George were hard-working tenders of the Franzia wine cellar. Sometimes Joseph J. Franzia’s sons would work with them during the summer. They were said to be hard task masters.

The Franzias dined in the northern Italian cuisine: pasta with pesto sauce, ravioli, polenta, mushrooms, and a wide range of vegetable dishes. There was a large basement under the Franzia home where large family gatherings were held with an abundance of food and wine. Another family activity was wild mushroom hunting.

The war brought worries about the family in Italy. During World War II, the United States and Italy were on opposite sides, Italy siding with the Axis. There were several years when no messages could get through, and the Franzias did not know how their kin in Italy were faring. In 1943 the Italians unseated Benito Mussolini and joined the Allied Powers, but northern Italy was still controlled by the Nazis with Mussolini as their puppet until the end of the war. Many men of northern Italy were sent to work in labor camps inside Germany and died much like the Jews.

The wineries operating in the distilling business for the war effort attracted distilling giants of the era: Dallas-based Schenley Industries, National Distillers, and Seagrams. In early 1942, Schenley purchased Franzia rival Cresta Blanca. It then gobbled up the Cella family’s Roma Wine Company. The national productivity during the war ended the depression; so better times arrived after the war. The price of wine grapes skyrocketed in 1946, mainly due to the liquor distilling companies entering the wine-making field. In 1947 grapes were selling for $100 a ton on the vine. This was followed by a crash in prices, causing instability in grape supply. One had to navigate carefully during those years. One by one, rivals of Franzia Brothers Wine Company disappeared into the corporate morass of purchases, mergers and sell-offs. One rival, Louis Petri, ably maneuvered the purchase of Italian Swiss Colony in 1953 from National Distillers. Petri’s Escalon winery was just down the road from Franzia Brothers. Ironically, that old Petri site is now owned by the Bronco Wine Company, which is owned by a younger generation of Franzias, whereas the orginal Franzia-Brothers site is owned by the non-Franzia-family company, The Wine Group. The Wine Group, an employee-owned corporation, still produces wine using the Franzia name brand. They have a major share of the boxed-wine business.

In the late 1940’s the brothers hired Fernando “Nando” Quaccia [1913-2007] as their wine-maker and chemist. Nando was married to Antoinette, a daughter of Angela Carrara Montani, sister to Teresa Carrara Franzia. Their son, Louis Quaccia, although decades younger than the Franzia brothers, was a first cousin to them. Louis in the 1960’s worked for Franzia Brothers in the wine-making department with his father and John Franzia, Jr. He recalled Giuseppe: “My best recollection is Barba [Uncle] Franzia chasing Freddie and Joey with a hoe in his garden while irrigating.” The boys referred to were Fred T. Franzia and his brother, Joseph S. Franzia. They and their parents lived with the boys’ Franzia grandparents right at the winery site. The two boys would later form Bronco Wine Company with their cousin, John Franzia, Jr. John, Jr., also recalled his grandfather throwing dirt clods at him when he disrespected his grandfather’s precious garden by throwing clods in the area. Old Giuseppe could be testy. Nando left Franzia Brothers about 1967. Jimmy Demakis, a Greek, another Franzia favorite, was outstanding in the sales department.

As the decade of the 1940’s waned, the Franzias enjoyed their many grandchildren; some were nearing adulthood. Teresa died April 28, 1949, at the age of sixty-nine. Giuseppe outlived his wife by less than three years. He suffered from diabetes and received insulin shots with a large hypodermic needle. Toward the end he became confused. Fred Franzia recalls that his grandfather mistook the tomato juice he was drinking for wine. Giuseppe died February 8, 1952, at the age of eighty-one. Both died at hospitals in Stanislaus County, the closest to their home in southern San Joaquin County. There had been no estate planning; the sons had to sell a couple of the farms to pay the inheritance taxes when Giuseppe died. The Franzia brothers’ winery would begin its greatest success after the passing of their parents.

Unlike European wines that had good and bad years due to extreme weather, the large California vintners blended their wines to achieve a standard flavor that did not vary from year to year. California’s fame in the world wine industry continued to grow. The north coast vintners in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties especially gained world fame. The Franzias, like the Gallos, depended on volume sales of their wines. Selling wine at a price that average people could pay caused Franzia Brothers to grow. Appealing to a mass market eventually would propel the next generation of Franzias to outsell all of the vintners of the Napa Valley combined. About 1950 the Franzias paid to have a spur rail line built to the winery from the nearby Tidewater Southern Railroad; the main tracks are now owned by the Union Pacific.