Fred Franzia, mastermind behind Two Buck Chuck wine, dies at 79

Fred Franzia, mastermind behind Two Buck Chuck wine, dies at 79

Fred Franzia was known to say it often: No bottle of wine should cost more than $10. And for nearly two decades, he offered it for much, much less.

No, not Capri Sun’s Franzia wine which comes in a plastic bladder inside a box. Fred Franzia was the mastermind behind the Charles Shaw label – better known as Two Buck Chuck – which once sold for $1.99 a bottle and stormed tables across the country.

“Who said we were cheaper? We are the best price,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009. “The others, I think, are too expensive.

On Tuesday, Mr. Franzia died at his home in Denair, Calif., leaving behind one of the largest wineries in the United States — and a legacy of pioneering one of the most ubiquitous inexpensive wines. He was 79, Mr. Franzia’s Bronco Wine Co. wrote in a statement without specifying the cause of his death.

Some might be under the impression that a man named Charles Shaw is behind the $2 wine (now priced at more $4 a bottle) that appeared on Trader Joe’s shelves in 2002, and in some ways it is. Shaw, a French wine lover, opened a winery in Napa in the 1970s and won awards for his vintages until financial difficulties forced him to sell the brand and his brand in 1995, reported the New Yorker.

The buyer was Mr. Franzia, a scion of a prominent winemaking family, who had previously founded Bronco Wine Co. with his brother and cousin in 1973, with the goal of producing quality wines to sell at affordable prices. Two Buck Chuck was born in 2002, when a recession caused a surplus of wine and Mr. Franzia decided to sell it at low prices under the Charles Shaw brand, The New Yorker reported.

The concept was considered “revolutionary”. Unlike the budget wines available at the time, Charles Shaw came in a glass bottle with a cork stopper and, although not particularly good, tasted “really dry”, wrote at the time. Ben Giliberti of the Washington Post. And it was a resounding success, selling 2 million cases the first year and 5 million the following year, Wine Spectator reported.

In 2009, after 400 million bottles had been sold, Mr. Franzia remarked, “Take that and shove it, Napa,” according to The New Yorker.

The comment sums up Mr. Franzia’s philosophy of pushing back the preciousness of Northern California wine culture. He often asserted that wine should not only be affordable, but also cheap. When asked how Bronco could make wine that was at one time cheaper than a bottle of water, his company noted in his death announcement, Mr Franzia replied: “They overcharge for the water – don’t you understand?”

With dozens of brands, Bronco Wine Co. is now the 13th-largest winemaker in the United States, having sold 3.4 million cases in 2021, Wine Spectator reported.

Fred Franzia was born May 24, 1943, and grew up in California’s Central Valley, working at the family’s Franzia Brothers winery, the Turlock Journal reported. As the vineyard grew, it was eventually purchased by Coca-Cola, and the Franzia name is now emblazoned on — and synonymous with — inexpensive wine boxes. Coca-Cola eventually sold the Franzia brand. Mr. Franzia’s uncle started another great Californian winemaker: E. & J. Gallo Winery.

Mr. Franzia attended Santa Clara University and eventually started Bronco with his brothers, the Journal reported. One of his strategies was to buy bankrupt labels. Mr. Franzia told CNN Money in 2007, “We’re buying wineries from Stanford guys who are going bankrupt.” (Shaw studied at Stanford.) Bronco also bought brands of wines that could be advertised as produced in Napa Valley while being made in the Central Valley — thanks to a state loophole that was later changed. by Mr. Franzia’s resistance, the New Yorker reported.

And Mr. Franzia’s business practices sometimes went to extremes. In 1994, he was forced to step down from running his company for five years and personally pay a $500,000 fine after pleading guilty to fraud charges, The New Yorker reported. Mr. Franzia had misrepresented the quality of the grapes in about a million gallons of wine, asking employees to scatter zinfandel leaves on cheaper grapes, which he allegedly called a “blessing of the charges”, according to the New Yorker .

Despite the controversies, he developed a reputation as a “maverick” in the industry.

“His entrepreneurial spirit, tireless dedication and commitment to his family and the Bronco family will be forever remembered,” his company wrote on Tuesday. “His legacy will live on for generations to come.”


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