Fred Franzia, creator of ‘Two Buck Chuck’ and champion of affordable wine, has died

Fred Franzia, the man behind the famous “Two Buck Chuck,” died on Tuesday at age 79.

The Franzia family and the Bronco Wine Company announced Franzia’s death on Instagram. Franzia founded the company with one of his brothers and a cousin in 1973. The trio aimed to create “high quality wines at a value for wine consumers.”

“Core to his vision was a belief that wine should be enjoyed and consumed on every American Table,” the company said. “When asked how Bronco Wine Company can sell wine less expensive than a bottle of water, Fred T. Franzia famously countered, ‘They’re overcharging for the water — don’t you get it?'”

The California winemaker said countless times over his career that a person should not have to pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine. The thought, while appealing to many, was just as distressing to many people who indulge in more expensive wines.

Still, Franzia did well to bring affordable wine to the masses through his plethora of brands and his savvy business tactics of buying and selling wine in bulk at opportune times, as detailed by The New Yorker. Probably none of these are more famous than the Charles Shaw brand that is sold exclusively at Trader Joe’s grocery stores. For years, consumers could grab a bottle or two for just $1.99 each.

The price has gone up some, but “Two Buck Chuck” still remains well within grasp for those who value affordability.

It’s also competed with pricier wines and come out on top. In 2004, the 2002 Charles Shaw Shiraz won a prestigious double gold medal at the 28th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition among the 2,300 other wines.

Carol Emert, a wine columnist at the time, told NPR she wasn’t surprised at how well the Charles Shaw brand did.

“The flavor profile of Charles Shaw tends to be very fruit forward, very likable, very approachable,” Emert told Morning Edition. “It has a surprising amount of tannin and other types of complexity which is why people are so wowed by the fact that they can get it for $2. It doesn’t taste like a cheap, simple syrupy wine.”

While Franzia had a lot of success with bargain wines, he was not involved in the business of the popular Franzia boxed wine. As Wine Spectator reports, the Franzia brand was once owned by the same family, but it was sold to Coca-Cola before Fred founded Bronco Wine Company alongside his brother and cousin. The decision to sell the company did not sit well with Franzia.

“My dad, he was not a fighter,” he told The New Yorker in 2009.“He just folded. And he and I went through a period of no communication.”

Though the family’s original brand was sold, Franzia made a point to keep Bronco Wine Company family-owned even as it went through vertical integration — or bringing all aspects of its operations in-house.

“His entrepreneurial spirit, tireless dedication, and his commitment to both his family and to the Bronco family will forever be remembered,” the company said. “His legacy will endure for generations to come.”

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Transcript :

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

It’s time to pour one out for the titan of bargain wine. Fred Franzia, the man behind the famous Charles Shaw wine known as Two Buck Chuck, died on Tuesday at age 79. NPR’s Wynne Davis has this appreciation.

WYNNE DAVIS, BYLINE: Fred Franzia was famous for claiming that no bottle of wine should cost more than $10. In 2002, he started selling his Charles Shaw wine at Trader Joe’s.

CAROL EMERT: Two Buck Chuck was a real phenomenon because it was relatively good wine that was sold in a respectable bottle. It wasn’t screw cap. And it was $1.99 a bottle. It was absolutely unheard of.

DAVIS: That’s Carol Emert, a former wine columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. She covered the rise of Two Buck Chuck.

EMERT: It had a different profile than cheap wine. It tasted like good wine.

DAVIS: Franzia came from a family of winemakers who sold their company to Coca-Cola. It later became the familiar Franzia boxed wine. Fred was angry about his family’s decision to sell and in 1973 started his own company with his brother and cousin. But not everyone was a fan. Karen MacNeil wrote “The Wine Bible” and says while affordable wine is an honorable business, many had issues with how Charles Shaw wine was marketed.

KAREN MACNEIL: The fallacy of Two Buck Chuck is that it implied to consumers that there’s some beautiful vineyard somewhere.

DAVIS: In reality, Franzia’s wines often included bulk shipments of grapes from other places. But Carol Emert said he didn’t care what the wine elites thought.

EMERT: He just threw the rules out the window and did what he wanted to do.

DAVIS: And to that, we can raise a glass. Wynne Davis, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.