Trader Joe's bled it for what it was worth. The $1.99 wine that the airlines supposedly sent back because it couldn't bring corkscrews on board. It was a hoax. Much like that Nigerian national looking for a domestic US banking account. Or the e-mail that will destroy everything on your hard drive if you open it. But at less than $24 a case, Trader Joe's had the exclusive on the hot wine this past holiday season: Charles Shaw.
But you fell for it. The public that is. Trader Joe's sold more $1.99 wine than anyone believed. The bottler bought surplus “juice” from Central Valley suppliers, hauled it to Napa and bottled it their so it could use the Charles Shaw moniker with a Napa Valley origin.
Even infamous LA Blogger Sir Ken Layne fell for it – hook, line and even blogged about it. Poor guy hated to see the LA Times article for fear he wouldn't have more $2 wine to stash in his cellar.
[…] Dear God, have we tasted this Charles Shaw wine. It is a fantastic bargain — we pick up entire cases for $25, and never tire of it. Read my L.A. Examiner post for more details. I was sort of sad to see the L.A. Times story, because now there will be a rush on the last cases. I plan to seriously re-stock tomorrow: four cases […] Ken Layne
Poor soul. I tasted the chardonnay and the cabernet. Sure, it tastes ok. But it's not wine. Not even close. But it's sweet, over ripe and I would be bold to say that some fancy wine enhancing (uh. could someone say add sweetner) went into making this wine ultimately palatable for the average American wine drinker. And while he was clever enough to hide behind the guise of Bronco Wine Company of Napa, the mastermind behind “Two Buck Chuck” is Box Wine Kingpin Fred Franzia. Next time you feel the urge to slug down some Chuck Shaw $1.99 wine, save yourself some money. Go for a gallon of Franzia out of the box. Franzia found a nice exit when he sold the box wine brand to Coca-Cola. Maybe Coke found it just like the other flavored sugar water they sell — sweet and profitable.
The success of Franzia and his “Two Buck Chuck” has brought on some imitators. According to Wine Business Magazine another $2 wine is hitting retailers shelves.
[…] Few wine companies are in a position to make money on a wine that retails for $1.99. Nonetheless, the “Two Buck Chuck” phenomenon is growing: Golden State Vintners just introduced Pacific Peak, which sells for $1.99 at Beverages & More stores in California. In less than a month, GSV has orders for 50,000 or 60,000 cases […] Wine Business Magazine
Fact is, the cheap wine is partially the result of what the media have coined “The California Wine Glut”. For the most part, this is true. Wine's popularity has risen dramatically in the last decade. American's are consuming more and more. Eager to cash in on the surge, California growers planted and planted and planted. More and more grapes. it typically takes grapevines 3-5 years to yield fruit good enough to turn into wine. Those vines planted in the last 5 years are finally coming of age. This means more wine. And this means lower prices. But one thing it doesn't mean: good quality.
Don't get me wrong, I'll be the first to admit California wine prices have skyrocketed beyond belief. And there needs to be a correction. But for the most part, California wine quality has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. And while I'm sure that the $1.99 will appease the masses, I would only hope that it would instill the thrill of discovery for those wanting to experience and learn more about wine. With hundreds of different wine varietals, dozens of wine producing regions each with its own history in every glass, grape and bottle, I would hope that instead of buying 4 cases of the same wine that you would want to try something new. Experiment. Pair new wines with different foods. Or just simply to Think Different about wine. Then I think you'll find the joy that can be appreciated like a good book, movie or other art or expression in each wine you taste. You can read up on some of the wines I've tasted in the Good Juice section of The Digital Tavern.