Got some of this wine at the Cambridge, MA Trader Joe's. It's not too bad! I've had MUCH worse and paid LOTS more!
From the NY Times today:
April 23, 2003
For $2, a Bottle of Wine and Change
By FRANK J. PRIAL
MOVE over Mondavi. Step aside Gevrey-Chambertin. And Grgich Hills, get lost. Make way for Two-Buck Chuck, at $1.99 a bottle the hottest thing in the wine market since, well, since nothing. There's never been anything like it.
The wine's real name is Charles Shaw. It's a year-old line of California wines produced and bottled by the Bronco Wine Company of Ceres, Calif., and sold only in Trader Joe's stores, of which there are 193, most of them on the West Coast. The Two-Buck Chuck nickname is said to have come from a Trader Joe's employee who, one hopes, was quickly made a marketing director.
These Charles Shaw wines first appeared last spring, with three vintages-1999, 2000 and 2001-arriving simultaneously. But it wasn't until late fall that sales started to move. "They were doing 350, 500 cases a day in some stores," said Jon Fredrikson, a California wine consultant. "By the end of the year, they'd sold almost two million cases."
Tales abound of how, as the holidays approached, customers carted off 10 to 15 cases at a time in their S.U.V.'s. They would buy a bottle, them come back for cases, said one manager of a Trader Joe's store in Emeryville, Calif. Sales of Two-Buck Chuck could reach five million cases this year, Mr. Fredrikson said, adding: "It's the fastest-growing table wine in the U.S. wine industry's history. Here in California, they are currently outselling all the Gallo labels combined."
Harvey Posert, a public relations consultant working for Bronco, said: "We've never seen anything like it. It's sort of a reverse cult wine."
So-called cult wines like Screaming Eagle and Grace Family Vineyards are produced in tiny quantities by small wineries and sold at astonishingly high prices. Two-Buck Chuck appears to have reversed the process by attracting thousands of customers who ordinarily pay much more for their wine. Suddenly, it's chic to boast that you are serving a $2 wine.
Wine chat rooms on the Internet quickly took up the Two-Buck Chuck story and are credited, at least in part, for the wine's rapid rise to fame.
Two-Buck Chuck is a phenomenon of the current California wine market, which has been hard hit by the economic downturn and is trying to rid itself of an ocean of surplus wine. The wholesale price of bulk wine, as high as $10 a gallon in the late 1990's, was down to about $1 last year.
Bronco's president, Fred Franzia, has made a success of picking up the labels of bankrupt or otherwise dormant wineries and using them on lines of inexpensive wines. Among the has-beens whose names he owns-in addition to Charles Shaw-are Grand Cru, Hacienda, Rutherford Vintners and Napa Ridge. Napa Ridge is in Napa but its wines are made from bulk wine trucked in from other parts of California. Charles Shaw wines are bottled at Napa Ridge.
Several years ago, the Napa Valley Vintners Association sued Bronco for what it contended was the illegal use of the "Napa" name on wines "bulked in" from elsewhere. The vintners lost.
And many California vintners seem to be losing again, as Mr. Frederikson said that the $1.99 bottle has taken business away from other wineries.
CHARLES F. SHAW was a Chicago investment banker who fell in love with the wine business and, in the late 1970's, bought 50 acres off the Silverado Trail in the Napa Valley. There, he planted gamay grapes to make a California version of Beaujolais. The Charles F. Shaw Vineyard and Winery opened for business in 1979.
Eventually, Mr. Shaw was making 10,000 cases a year of gamay and sauvignon blanc. But a dozen years later, after his gamay gamble had met with little success in cabernet country, Mr. Shaw declared bankruptcy and returned to Chicago. Bronco stepped in and bought the name, keeping it in deep freeze for about another 12 years.
There are four wines now in the Charles Shaw Two-Buck Chuck line: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. They are all priced at $1.99 in California's Trader Joe's stores. In the chain's stores in Washington and other states, the wine has often been priced at $2.99.
Two-Buck Chuck has been compared with Franzia three- and five-liter bag-in-the-box wines but, in fact, those wines are not made by Bronco, but by the Wine Group, another big California company, which some years ago purchased the Franzia name.
The Charles Shaw wines are relatively dry for inexpensive wines. This puts them in competition with more sophisticated table wines rather than the bag-in-a-box wines. The cabernet, the only one I have tried, is light, pleasant and easy to drink and has little varietal character. It could have been merlot for all I knew. Nondescript would not be too harsh a characterization. Nothing wrong with that: wine is supposed to accompany food and Charles Shaw will do that quite adequately. Someone referred to it recently as the ultimate fund-raiser wine-perfect for large groups of people who really don't care what they are drinking.
No one is sure how long the Two-Buck Chuck phenomenon will last. Bulk wine prices have climbed to as high as $1.50 a gallon in recent weeks, but as Mr. Posert of Bronco noted, there is a wine glut all over the world working to keep prices down. He sees the Charles Shaw wines doing well for another two to five years.
The wines quickly spawned competitors, the most interesting of which happens to be called, yes, Two Buck Chuck. The difference is that with the Charles Shaw wines, Two-Buck Chuck is merely a clever, informal nickname. Two weeks ago, the new Two Buck Chuck appeared in California, at the stores of a chain called Beverages & More. Only this second Two Buck Chuck was registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as a legitimate proprietary name.
This other Two Buck Chuck is made at the Adler Fels winery in Santa Rosa, Calif., which also bottles private-label wines for chain stores. The winemaker David Coleman said that Beverages & More had asked him to make the wine some months ago and that he had had no idea someone else was using the name Two Buck Chuck. Mr. Coleman said he doesn't see the $2 wine phenomenon lasting more than "three or four months." He now has a 2000 cabernet sauvignon and a 2001 chardonnay.
In the meantime, he told the Wine Business Insider, a trade publication: "It's amazing how much wine is out there and how inexpensive it is. I wish I could run my car with it."