The Winery Behind Trader Joe's Wine

Depending on who you ask, there's one exception to the popular convention that a decent bottle of wine should cost more than a pack of gum, and it goes by the name of Two-Buck Chuck. It may cost a hair more than two bucks outside of California these days, but it certainly won't put a dent in your wallet. If anything, exceeding your grocery budget at Trader Joe's can usually be blamed on stockpiling ready-to-heat dinners from the bountiful freezer aisle. 

Any frugal Trader Joe's shopper who frequents the chain's vino aisle will likely recognize a bottle of TBC Pinot Grigio from a mile away, but they needn't keep their eyes peeled for it in the bargain sections of other wine and liquor stores. The super value wine is available exclusively at Trader Joe's, which makes it easy to find. Of course, Two-Buck Chuck is just a nickname. The label is officially called Charles Shaw, made under the California vintner Bronco Wine Company. 

Bronco Wine Company: A different Franzia empire

In order to understand the massive — and oft-divisive — footprint of Two-Buck Chuck label Charles Shaw, it's worth taking a closer look at Bronco Wine Company and its co-founder, the late Fred Franzia. No, not that Franzia. While Fred was never involved in Franzia Wines, the eponymous budget brand that touts itself as "the world's most popular wine," he started an empire of his own. 

Together with his brother and cousin, Franzia founded Bronco Wine Company in 1973 with the goal of "crafting quality wines for every table." It's become a household name among penny-pinching shoppers ever since its Charles Shaw line made its Trader Joe's debut in 2002. In September 2022, in the wake of Franzia's death, The New York Times wrote that Trader Joe's had sold over a billion bottles of Two-Buck Chuck. 

So, who is Charles Shaw, and how did his name become synonymous with the Franzia-founded label? Vine Pair lays out the basic facts, which sadly show that Shaw — a former winemaker who staked out land in the Napa Valley in the 1980s before it was as wine-centric as it is today — might have just been ahead of his time. He was obsessed with the now-popular French grape Gamay, which, at the time, wasn't such a hit among average U.S. vino drinkers. His business failed by the end of the decade, at which point Frank Franzia decided to buy it, make it more accessible to the American palate, and sell it for cheap.

Why is it so cheap?

There's no shortage of wild theories as to how Charles Shaw wine is made, but just like the horror stories behind street-cart hot dogs, those prone to conspiracy may still maintain that the brand contains animal blood and the feathers and bones of small birds and rodents. "These large tractors with huge claws go down the rows of vineyards grabbing the grapes and depositing them in its huge receptacle," wine shop owner Chris Knox allegedly claimed of the brand in 2011 in a since-deleted post. "And it not only grabs ripe grapes but unripe and downright rotten ones as well and throws them all together," he added. Bronco has denied those allegations, per Gothamist.

More palatable theories, like one cited by Insider, have it that the brand cuts costs by using oak chips to age its wine rather than the standard (and more expensive) wooden barrels. The outlet also notes that the wine is made by machines as opposed to humans, which means there are fewer employees on the payroll.