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A Book of Verses underneath the Bough.

A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness –

Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”

Omar Khayyam, Persian poet, as translated by Edward FitzGerald


‘Two Buck Chuck’, the Wine Glut, and You!

Winery Insight Featured Article - March 2003 by Timothy O. Rice


Out in California, they have too many grapes and too much wine.  The times are tough.  In the heady days of the Nineties, the wine market exploded and everyone thought it was easy to make money making wine.  Vineyards were planted here, there, and everywhere.  Years later, bumper crops combined with all those new vineyards to create a California wine glut (some say a world-wide wine glut).

Imports played their part as well.  Foreigners aren’t fools, and they saw the opportunity to make money just as well as any American did.  Excellent wines at competitive prices from Chile, Australia, New Zealand and Spain came knocking on the door.


It took some time for trouble to develop, because the demand for wine, particularly red wine, has exploded ever since the 1991 “French Paradox” story on 60 Minutes.  In the late 1990’s it seemed to have no limit.  But it did.  Production and supply have finally caught up with demand, and in uncertain economic times consumers began to turn a dubious eye on some of those over-priced wines of questionable value they’d been buying.


Into this maelstrom of woe rode ‘Two Buck Chuck’.  Charles F. Shaw sold his winery to the Bronco Wine Company about ten years ago.  Now, seeing opportunity where others saw only the wringing of hands, Bronco has introduced a line of, ahem, low-priced Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc under the Charles F. Shaw label.  Very low – as in $1.99 per bottle at the exclusive retailer, Trader Joe’s chain of boutique supermarkets.


That was in February of last year.  No big deal – Bronco is run by the Franzias, who own many wineries through it, and they have ruffled feathers before.  Then something happened.


 It seemed that people actually began to buy ‘Two Buck Chuck’, and drink it.  They discovered the wine wasn’t all that bad.  Drinkable, in fact.  Maybe better than that.  It became a fad.  A phenomenon.  In December, Trader Joe literally couldn’t keep it on the shelves.  One store sold out of a shipment in 34 minutes.  Rumor says a million cases of ‘Two Buck Chuck’ were sold in December, that the Bronco bottling line ran three shifts on New Year’s Day.


It gets worse.  In January, at the impressive United Wine and Grape Symposium, ‘Two Buck Chuck’s’ owner, the Bronco Wine Co. was named as winery of the year by the well-known wine market analyst, Jon Fredrikson.


I am sure that set a lot of tongues to wagging.  But all is not lost.  The success of ‘Two Buck Chuck’ will help drain the overflowing tanks of the California wine glut, and it will get a great many people used to drinking more wine than they have been.  In a year or two or three conditions will change.  The harvest will be different, or the demand will be greater.  Things always even out.


What does that mean for you?


Well, to begin with, it will mean better prices.  You won’t be seeing much of a drop (if any) in the top names.  But we all know and suspect that there are wineries out there pricing bottles at $50 that are not noticeably better than some $20 bottles we’ve had, and the same all down the line.  The $6-10 bottle is probably the one most threatened by ‘Two Buck Chuck’.  So expect competitive pricing at your local wine store.


What does it mean to the vast majority of smaller wineries, the ones you can’t find in your local wine store anyway?  My guess is not too much if they are outside of the badly effected areas of California, maybe Oregon and Washington.  Distribution and transportation costs will raise the cost of ‘Two Buck Chuck’ outside California.  My guess is it will be more like $4-6 on the East Coast.  (We’ll let you know – only one Trader Joe’s in New Jersey has a liquor license.)  That changes the dynamic, and puts it in a range with more normal competition.


Besides, going to your local winery is not about price, or at least it shouldn’t be.  A winery visit is about discovery and good times, about fun and people and life.  Not at all the same as driving down to the corner to buy a bottle.  I can’t recall seeing any unhappy faces in tasting rooms, although there must have been some; I can recall people in liquor stores who looked plain angry.


At local wineries in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, we’ve come across varietal wines made with Marechal Foch, Traminette, and Vignoles grapes.  I doubt we would ever find those at any wine store we have been in.  We have met good people, we’ve learned a lot, and we’ve created memories of the first time we tasted this wine, or the day we stumbled across that winery.  All that led us to start the Weekend Winery, to provide a service listing those small and special places.  We hope to help you find them.


 Last modified: August 07, 2007