In this week’s mini, the biddies discuss Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw wine, more affectionately known as “two buck chuck”, and how it came to be. Learn how Charles Shaw started a winery, lost a winery and ended up with a wine with his name on it but no control over the product.



Study Notes for Two Buck Chuck:

“The irony is that Charles Shaw wine used to be great–and nobody drank it. Now it’s terrible and it’s selling like gangbusters”


  • Called “Two-Buck Chuck” because of its affordable price tag
  • Charles Shaw wine dates back to the 1970s
  • Charles had moved to Paris and fell in love with wine
    • Wanted to bring French wine to America
    • Bought a vineyard in California and rolled out his first Gamay in 1979
    • He won awards for this wine which also was served at three White House dinners
    • Cue series of unfortunate events and a divorce


  • Joined the Air Force and traveled the country negotiating contracts
  • Ended up in California in the 1960s and met a girl named Lucy who he married and the had children with
    • She came from a family of wealthy rice farmer family and inherited a large amount of money
    • They bought a winery in Napa Valley and lived there for a bit before moving to larger one using her family money and taking out bank loans
  • That Gamay that he created and won awards with and was at the Whie house was not bought by the general public so he had a ton of unsold wine
    • Sold his wine to a Stanford alum friend (Joe Colom aka Trader Joe)
    • Colom sold this wine for $2 a bottle with a different label on it
    • Does this mean the original Two Buck Chuck was Gamay!? Jealous
  • He then started making Chardonnay and PInot Noir
    • It was an incredible money making opportunity for him and then he said “It was just so wonderful, so the thing is, what could go wrong, right?”


  • Wine was accidentally polluted by a supplier
  • Then phylloxera
  • Banks called in his debt
  • And turned to his wifes capital
    • Lucy wanted a divorce and to take control of the winery and the money should had put into it
    • The sum was around $450,000
    • Her plan to run the business didn’t work out and she declared bankruptcy
  • The vineyards were snapped up by a local competitor and sold to the Bronco Wine Company
    • This was run by Fred Franzia
  • In 2002 – recession starts leading to a massive wine surplus
    • Fred Franzia decided he needed offload some of his bottles and then went to Trader Joes
      • Became two buck chuck


  • Released a wine in small wooden barrels that had paraffin wax versus bees wax and it tainted the wine
    • Hundreds of thousands of dollars lost
  • Had a bad agreement with national distributors and over produced too much Burgundian style wine when that wasn’t a popular style
  • After Franzia bought it and slashed the price, they were sued for the levels of arsenic in the wine


  • First rumor is that he slashed his prices to spite his wife and devalue the brand
  • Branches, dead birds, and insects were fermented as filler along with the grapes to cut down cost
    • Ok so this isn’t totally illegal – the FDA has requirements on how much bird and bug guts is OK in your wine

“You know, I actually like the name Two Buck Chuck. It ties it to me. It’s better than the brand disappeariing – or being forgotten”