THE FOUNDERS of a weeknight staple wine brand advocated investing in ‘survival products’ – as the UK reeled from record-breaking temperatures.

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey grew Barefoot Wines to one of the US’s biggest wine brands, selling half a million cases a year stamped with the distinctive barefoot logo when they sold the business to Gallo in 2005.

At Worcester College to give a talk to young people on the Oxford Summer Courses on Tuesday night, Ms Harvey sad: “Yesterday, there was record-breaking heat. We saw how people deal with it.”

Mr Houlihan echoed: “The demand for survival products is now. Within two years, everybody in the UK is going to try to buy survival products.”

The demand is already being seen in Mr Houlihan and Ms Harvey’s native California, where the cost of dealing with wildfires has spiralled from an average of $61m annually in the 1990s to $401m in the last decade.

“In California we’re hardening the castle, protecting it the best we can against wildfires,” Ms Harvey said – citing ways buildings had been adapted to make them more resilient to fire.

You could ‘taste the smoke’ in some wines, Mr Houlihan added. “There are whole vintages now that are blackballed because of that.”

Wildfires have raged across Europe this summer amid a heatwave that has sent temperatures past 40C. Firefighters in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece have all battled major blazes.

In London, the fire brigade declared a major incident on Tuesday – the hottest day on record – saying it had received 1,600 emergency calls by the afternoon. Among the large fires was a blaze in Wennington, near east London, that claimed a number of homes.

Oxfordshire was not immune from the fires. On Monday, crews from six fire stations battled a field blaze near Tackley that threatened 40 acres of crops.

Mr Houlihan and Ms Harvey were in Oxford on Wednesday to share their insights from decades of business with summer school students at Worcester College.

Asked about their message to the students, Mr Houlihan said: “Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. People don’t care what you do, they care what problem you can solve. Listen more than talk, ask more than sell. Find out how what you’re doing solves their problem."

Ms Harvey added: “Find a need and fill it. We found there was need for a non-intimidating bottle of wine in the supermarket at a price people could afford. A name they could remember and an image they would never forget.”

Read more from this author

This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.  

To get in touch with him email:

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward