Winemaker behind Trader Joe's iconic Two Buck Chuck dies

Winemaker behind Trader Joe’s iconic Two Buck Chuck dies

Fred Franzia, who rocked the wine industry with best-selling second-hand wines, died Tuesday morning at his home in Denair, Calif. He was 79 years old.

Bronco Wine Company, co-owned by Franzia, confirmed his passing on Instagram and shared that the founder’s vision had always been to make wine accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

“When asked how Bronco Wine Company could sell wine for less than a bottle of water, Fred T. Franzia retorted, ‘They overcharge for water – don’t you understand?’ Bronco wrote. Wine Company in a press release.

Even if you’ve never heard of Franzia itself, you know its wine. Charles Shaw, better known as Two Buck Chuck, has been a popular bargain wine since it hit Trader Joe’s shelves 20 years ago. In an in-depth analysis of Two Buck Chuck, The Hustle estimated that the grocery chain sold over a billion bottles between 2002 and 2018.

Two Buck Chuck is displayed at Trader Joe’s for $1.99 in 2020. Fred Franzia, co-owner of Bronco Wine Company and creator of Two Buck Chuck, died September 13, 2022.

Amanda Bartlett/SFGATE

Franzia was no stranger to the wine industry. He comes from a line of winemakers beginning with his great-grandfather, Giuseppe Franzia, who founded Franzia Brothers Winery in the late 1800s, decades before the company was sold to Coca-Cola. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Franzia worked in sales for the family business and later founded Bronco Wine Company in 1973 alongside her brother and cousin. (SFGATE and the San Francisco Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of each other.)

Franzia, who has been a vocal critic of the wine industry’s pretension, bought Charles F. Shaw Winery for $27,000 (about $52,471.24 today) after the company filed for bankruptcy in 1995. The brand will remain inactive for nearly 10 years before Franzia updates the former elite wine. (known for selling bottles for $50) and turned it into a celebrated brand for deals as low as $1.99.

During the 1990s, Franzia also acquired other struggling wineries and later used wine labels that read “cellar and bottle” in Napa to sell wines made from grapes grown in the San Valley. Joaquin.

“Although federal law requires that a wine with an appellation name, such as Napa Valley, be made from at least 75% grapes from that region, all brands created before 1986 were exempt,” writes the Chronicle. “It had allowed Franzia to sell Central Valley wines with names like Napa Ridge, Napa Creek and Rutherford Vintners. (These three brands had been created before 1986, although Franzia bought them later.)”

He was also able to offer wines at low prices by reducing bottling expenses which included replacing traditional corks with less expensive materials.

Box with logo for Charles Shaw wine sold at Trader Joe's.  Fred Franzia, co-owner of Bronco Wine Company and creator of Two Buck Chuck, died September 13, 2022.

Box with logo for Charles Shaw wine sold at Trader Joe’s. Fred Franzia, co-owner of Bronco Wine Company and creator of Two Buck Chuck, died September 13, 2022.

Gado/Gado via Getty Images

Charles Shaw, the former owner of his namesake wine, had some choice words about the outcome of his business years after it was sold to Franzia. In an interview with the Napa Valley Register, he told the outlet that he considers Two Buck Chuck “embarrassing and demeaning.” His frustration seemed to stem from the use of his brand name since he did not consider Two Buck Chuck to be a true Napa Valley wine.

“Take that and go out and have a less good wine from another appellation, that’s not what I started doing, is it? And I paid a pretty high price,” said Shaw told the outlet in 2003.

Despite how he was perceived by the previous owner, Charles Shaw’s wines would win accolades over the years. In 2004, the brand won a double gold medal at the International Eastern Wine Competition for its 2002 Charles Shaw Shiraz.




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