Two Buck Chuck

I guess it is time that I finally throw my opinion into the fray….This week, there has been a big “to-do” about the price of Charles Shaw wine (known in California as “Two-Buck-Chuck”) going above the $2.00 mark at retail. So many people have complained that this is the end of affordable wine. Really? Is it that great of a value?

At the risk of sounding like a wine snob…it’s not that good of a wine. I use it for making pizza sauce, not for drinking. Again, before you go calling me a wine snob, I have thrown bottles of Charles Shaw into a number of blind tastings, and in every case, it was picked as the worst, or cheapest in the bunch.  Again, that was a blind tasting.

Fred Franzia
For those of you who are not familiar with Two-buck-Chuck, it is sold exclusively through Trader Joe’s stores. The wine comes in about six or seven different varieties. The wine is made by the Bronco Wine Company, whose president is Fred Franzia. You remember Franzia wine don’t you? The stuff that comes in boxes (in fairness, the box wine is no longer associated with the Franzia family, as they sold the business long before Bronco Wine Company was formed). So, who is Charles Shaw?

There actually is a Charles Shaw, however he is not involved in the current wine that bears his name. Charles Shaw was an investment banker, who started a winery in Napa in the 1970’s. In 1991, he sold the brand to Fred Franzia. Charles Shaw now operates a winery in Michigan, known as OertherVineyard.

Back to Fred Franzia, and the Bronco Wine Company. Fred Franzia is the nephew of  Ernest Gallo (think Ernest & Julio Gallo). Fred started the Bronco Wine Company with his brother Joseph, and cousin, John in 1973. Bronco owns vineyards throughout the central valley of California. Land under vine exceeds 40,000 acres. According to their website, they have over 60 domestic wine brands, and over 70 international wine labels. Some of the more familiar would be: Crane Lake, Salmon Creek, Rabbit Ridge, Rancho Sisquoc, Rusack Vineyards, and Red Truck. Bronco Wine Company is the fourth largest wine seller in the United States, behind E. & J. Gallo, Constellation Brands, and the Wine Group Inc.

The question arises, “how can they make wine so inexpensively?” Fred Franzia has been quoted as saying that the other guys just overcharge (to paraphrase). Since Bronco Wine Company doesn’t share much information about their winemaking, one can only assume how they cut corners to keep costs down.

First, their vineyards are located in the central valley of California, an area known for bulk wine production and table grapes. This is a hot area, and the soils are very fertile. Most fine wine is grown in areas “on the edge”, that is poor soils, and stressful climatic conditions, which stress the vines, and are thought to produce finer fruit. The "terrior" makes a difference. Secondly, most of the high end wineries are hand picking their grapes, making sure the fruit is ripe, and handled gently. Bronco vineyards are mechanically picked, which is a violent process, where the grapes a shaken off the vine, along with everything else buried in the vine. There is a term for this,,,MOG (Material Other than Grapes)

The central valley is typically pretty hot, which means the grapes should produce higher amounts of sugar, which ultimately means more alcohol, and less acid. My guess is that most of the wines are acidified. I would also guess that most of the wine does not see oak barrels, but instead get dosages of oak wood chips, in a process similar to dipping a tea bag into water.

Even the bottles on Charles Shaw wine are of lower quality. I know this doesn’t affect the taste of the wine, but it does keep costs down. The corks are shorter than normal corks, and appear to be made of composite cork (pressed cork particles).

So, can you produce a quality wine, and sell it for under $3.00? Well obviously, you can produce a wine, whether it is quality is to be determined by the wine drinker. If you like Charles Shaw, great! My hope is that if this opens a door to wine for you, that you will explore further, and see what a $20 or $40 bottle of wine tastes like. To me, there is a difference.


  1. I think your comparison is true, but unfair. A $3 wine compared to a $20-40 wine does yield a dramatic difference, favoring the expensive bottle. There is no question about that. However, it is an unfair comparison.

    For me $20-40 is special occasion wine. If you have the money to drink that every day, then you are wealthier than most of the United States. A $40 bottle each day of the week would be $280 a week, $14,560 per year. For you that may be a tax write off, but for most people this is a considerable investment.

    With all due respect, I believe that your comparison is unfair. You must compare CS to $7-12 bottles of wine, respecting the purpose of the wine. It is to be affordable to drink every day. If you compare it that way, I think you'll find that the Cab Sauv stands up just fine to any other cheap wine.

  2. Let me clear up a couple things...first, I do not write off my wines on my taxes (though I like your thinking on this). I purchase my wines, just like everyone else, but I do have the opportunity to taste wines from all over the world, due to my wine education classes.

    Second, my everyday drinking wine (and I admit that I do not drink wine everyday) is usually about $20/bottle. My wife on the other hand does have a glass of wine every night, and that is usually a basic Woodbridge.

    As stated at the beginning of the article, I had hoped not to come across as a "wine snob", but I do feel that if you are to drink wine, why not try to get the best there is for the money. My point was that Charles Shaw really isn't that great, and certainly not so great that people are complaining about a 50 cent price increase.

  3. Agreed on both points. Charles Shaw is not great, more just drinkable. Also 50 cents is nothing worry about!

    I also agree that value for money can be achieved at $20-40 per bottle. There are some world class wines in this price range, and they are far superior to Charles Shaw.

    I understand why you would stick with the $20 bottle instead of drinking something cheap. I don't blame you at all.

    I do have a glass almost every day, and still buy the cheap stuff for that purpose. Perhaps I'm more like your wife in that way. So I don't mind a 2 and a half buck chuck, and do drink it fairly regularly.