Is there a wine that has inspired more urban legends than Two Buck Chuck, the Trader Joe’s house brand? The wine is legendary, reputed to be a prince of a wine dressed as a pauper.
Two Buck Chuck, which is formally known as Charles Shaw Wine, maintains its mystique largely because it’s only available in certain parts of the country. Like Coors Beer before going national, most people have never had Two Buck Chuck. Without actually tasting the wine, the natural tendency is for the quality to inflate as word of mouth goes from “not bad for two bucks” to “it’s supposed to be really, really good” to “I hear it came from (insert classy vineyard name here) and they had to dump it secretly onto the market because (insert unlikely scenario here).”
Nudging the rumors along, no doubt, is Two Buck Chuck’s maker, Bronco Wine Company. Bronco’s CEO, Fred Franzia, takes great joy in tweaking the wine establishment. That’s why Bronco occasionally slips a bottle of Two Buck Chuck into county fair wine tastings, hoping their “not bad for two bucks” wine will please judges burned out from tasting 100 wines in an afternoon. It works sometimes, too. Two years ago Charles Shaw Chardonnay took a medal at the California State Fair.
There’s always a story when someone talks about Two Buck Chuck. I’d heard the one about Trader Joe’s buying a warehouse full of wine from United Airlines when it got into financial trouble. I’d also heard the variation, that an unnamed airline had dumped the bottles when, after 9/11, they were no longer able to carry corkscrews aboard.
This weekend, I heard a new one: Charles Shaw and his wife were going through a messy divorce, and when she got the winery he (or his clever lawyer) inserted a covenant into the deed that said the wine produced by the winery could never be sold for more than $2 a bottle. Hence, Two Buck Chuck (current price: three bucks) will never go up in price.
In fact, Bronco makes more than 60 million gallons of inexpensive wine a year, selling it under various brand names designed to appeal to different, down-market segments. Charles Shaw is a brand that Bronco bought out of bankruptcy years ago and kept in its hip pocket in case it needed a classy-sounding label quick. That need arose when Bronco and Trader Joe’s struck a deal for Bronco to provide TJ’s house wine. What’s in a bottle of Two Buck Chuck is pretty much the same wine that’s in every other Bronco bottle.
That said, if you hear any good stories, let me know. I’m thinking of making a couple up just to see how fast they’ll spread.