Fred Franzia, champion of affordable wine who conceived ‘Two Buck Chuck,’ dies at 79

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Fred Franzia once said that if you bring a group of consumers together and take a blind taste between his $2 wines and $10 wines, most won’t be able to taste the difference.

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“If you can’t tell the difference or taste the difference, why spend the money?” They said.

It’s a question he raised and acted in a blind trick of his own in the midst of a grape surplus in the early 2000s, costing his Charles Shaw line at Trader Joe’s stores only $1.99.


The move, so despised by most of the Napa elite Franzia, was seen as a fad that would quickly fade once the surplus was exhausted. Instead, Franzia and his line of wine, which buyers affectionately known as “Two Buck Chuck,” revolutionized the way wine was viewed and sold in California and the United States.


“I don’t make wine to keep in a closet,” Franzia told ABC News in a 2009 interview after selling more than 500 million bottles of her discount wine. “We sell wine for drinking.”

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Forever a champion of cheap wine, Franzia died Tuesday morning at her home in Denair, Calif. He was 79 years old. He is survived by his five children, Renata, Roma, Joseph, Carlo and Giovanna; 14 grandchildren; a brother, Joseph; and two sisters, Jolene D’Arcole and Katherine McFadden.

Although noted for his counterculture footsteps as a businessman, Franzia came from California wine royalty. He was the nephew of Ernest Gallo, the founder of E&J Gallo Winery, which is the largest producer of California wines today. For decades, his father and uncle ran the Franzia Brothers Winery, located in the Central Valley city of Ripon, where Franzia grew up working the family’s vineyards, he told the New Yorker.

But in 1973, the family sold their company to Coca-Cola, which used the brand to popularize boxed wine. Franzia decided to start her own wine company, founding the Bronco Wine Company with her brother Joseph and cousin John Franzia.

Over the decades, Bronco acquired large landholdings for its vineyards, becoming the fourth largest wine producer in the state. With more than 30,000 acres of vineyards, Franzia relied heavily on the company, coupled with aggressive efficiency, to keep the cost of its wine down.

“We have vineyards where you drive three miles before turning the tractor over,” Franzia told The In 2003. “Everything is done on a large scale, accurately and efficiently.”

The company’s bold business strategy was not without controversy.

Bronco’s license was briefly suspended in 1985 by state agriculture officials, a rare punishment, after other producers complained that the company was misrepresenting its grapes and wine.

It was found that the company repeatedly used unfair tactics to reduce the prices paid to growers for its grapes, usually refusing to take delivery until the quality of the fruit deteriorated.

In 1994, Franzia and other Bronco officials were indicted on federal fraud charges for falsely claiming that their wine came from premium grapes, such as Zinfandel, Chardonnay or Cabernet. Consumers paid about $55 million for falsely advertised alcohol over a five-year period.

Although five others were imprisoned, Franzia refrained from pleading guilty, paying a $500,000 fine and stepping down as president of the Bronco.

Fred Franzia discusses his wine at a vineyard in Lodi, Calif., in 2003.

Nevertheless, the scandal hardly slowed down the development of the Bronco. The next year, Franzia disbanded the Charles Shaw wine label when its owner, Charles F. Shaw filed for bankruptcy. Over the next decade, Franzia turned the label into a surprise success.

When his 2002 Charles Shaw Shiraz beat 2,300 other wines to win a coveted double gold medal at the 28th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition, Franzia proved it was possible to give consumers an affordable wine that doesn’t sacrifice quality.

Although consumers became enamored of the Bronco’s cheap wine, Franzia acknowledged that the receivable value was less a sign of altruism and more a marketing strategy that he believed would motivate more consumers to buy more wine.

At the 2016 California Wine Industry gathering in Sacramento, Franzia continued to push for more affordable wine in restaurants, urging the industry to bring the price of wine from the typical $40 bottle to $10, according to a report. Modesto Bee,

He said the move would eventually attract more drinkers.

“Give the consumer a chance to make a choice,” Franzia said.


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