It's the fifth birthday of Two Buck Chuck, aka Charles Shaw Wines, and the brand has hit the 300 million bottle mark. That's a remarkable achievement for a wine sold only through a single retail chain, Trader Joe's. The wine is either the scourge or the savior of the U.S. wine industry, and is the brainchild of black-sheep winemaker Fred Franzia.
"We're not out to gouge people," says Franzia. "What I would like to see is every consumer be able to afford to have wine on the table every day and not feel insecure about it."
Last year, Two Buck Chuck - available only in the Trader Joe's grocery chain and priced at $1.99 in California, hence its nickname - accounted for at least 8 percent of California wine sold in-state, said Jon Fredrikson, who tracks wine shipments through his Woodland-based company, Fredrikson, Gomberg & Associates. National market share figures are not available. A bottle can range as high as $3.49 elsewhere. [From Vallejo Times Herald]
Though disdained by wine aficionados, there's little doubt that Two Buck Chuck has expanded the wine drinking market. It now accounts for 8% of the wine sold in California. And while many winemakers fear that selling wine for two or three dollars a bottle is bad for the entire industry, vintner Michael Mondavi puts an optimistic spin on the Franzia offerings, suggesting that "the vast majority of the people who originally start buying Two Buck Chuck, within a period of a year, trade up to better wines."
Our opinion is that very affordable wines DO expand the market and that many of these low-end wine consumers will eventually move upscale, at least graduating to some better but still inexpensive California and Australian brands. We tried Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay and thought it was not bad for the price, though we cared somewhat less for Two Buck Chuck Cabernet Sauvignon. With the massive volume they produce, there are bound to be variations between batches (these are non-vintage wines) - without a convenient Trader Joe's, though, our access to the brand is limited to occasional forays to bigger urban areas.