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‘Two Buck Chuck’ Maker Bronco Wine Hires First General Counsel

Sept. 30, 2022, 7:22 PM

Bronco Wine Co., one of the largest US vintners, hired its first-ever internal legal group leader shortly before the death earlier this month of its chief executive officer and co-founder, Fred Franzia.

James McPhail confirmed that he started Aug. 29 as general counsel and head of human resources at Ceres, Calif.-based Bronco. The family-owned winery was founded in 1973 by Fred, Joseph, and John Franzia.

Fred Franzia, the mastermind behind affordable wine brands like Charles Shaw—better known as “Two Buck Chuck”—and hundreds of other discount labels, died at 79 on Sept. 13. Bronco announced Sept. 22 that longtime executive Daniel Leonard will succeed Franzia as leader of the company.

McPhail said he was “fortunate enough” to have met Franzia a few times and receive his “stamp of approval” during the interview process for the top legal role at Bronco.

Since mid-2020 McPhail had been a senior corporate counsel for employment and litigation at the Wine Group LLC, whose own founder and former top executive, Arthur Ciocca, died last year at 84. The Wine Group owns the Franzia wine brand, which it acquired in 1981 from the Coca-Cola Co., a beverage industry giant that initially bought the business in 1973 from the Franzia family.

Prior to joining Bronco, McPhail spent nearly two years as general counsel and director of employee relations for University Medical Partners Inc., a clinician-owned health care network, as well as 15 years in-house at Delta Dental of California.

Bronco uses Ropes & Gray, San Francisco’s Hinman & Carmichael, and Modesto, Calif.-based Rodarakis & Sousa as its primary outside counsel, said McPhail, a former senior associate at Jackson Lewis who began his career at now-defunct Graham & James in San Francisco. Other law firms also do work for Bronco, McPhail said.

Ropes & Gray represented Bronco in a long-running legal dispute that barred the company from using the word “Napa” to sell wines made from grapes not harvested in California’s Napa Valley, a well-known winemaking region.

Sazerac, Loverboy Hires

Sazerac Co., a privately held owner of liquor brands like Barton, Buffalo Trace, and Fireball, also recently hired a new legal chief of its own, as did New York-based canned cocktail startup Loverboy Inc.

Maurice Loebl, most recently an associate general counsel for mergers and acquisitions, strategy, and international at the Molson Coors Beverage Co., confirmed via email that he became Sazerac’s chief legal officer Aug. 15. Loebl, who is based in Louisville, Ky., announced his new job via LinkedIn in late September.

“As whiskey begins its journey more or less as a beer, so it has been with my career as an alcohol beverage lawyer,” Loebl said.

Loebl, a former associate at Dorsey & Whitney and Kirkland & Ellis, said he’s part of an in-house team at Sazerac that includes chief compliance officer Mary Tortorice and compliance director Michael Arton.

Loverboy, a gluten-free alcoholic beverage brand started by reality television star Kyle Cooke, hired Christopher Messina as its general counsel in September. Messina, a former general counsel for the Brooklyn Brewery, spent the past year as a director and assistant general counsel for regulatory affairs at Constellation Brands Inc.

“This brand is on fire and doing some awesome things in the alcoholic beverage space,” Messina said in a statement posted to LinkedIn about his new role. He, Cooke, and Loverboy didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Loverboy was launched by 2018 by Cooke, who appears on Bravo’s “Summer House” along with his wife and fellow company co-founder Amanda Batula. Cooke has spoken publicly in recent months about the legal challenges facing Loverboy as the company, known for its hard teas, seeks to expand its operations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at; John Hughes at