Fred Franzia, who launched Charles Shaw wine ('Two Buck Chuck'), dies – USA TODAY

Fred Franzia, the California winemaker who created the Charles Shaw wine brand, which became known as “Two Buck Chuck,” has died at the age of 79.
Franzia died Tuesday at his home in Denair, California, with family by his side, they said in social media posts. A maverick who came from a winemaking family, Franzia “will be remembered as a larger-than-life character who expanded the reach of California wine with budget bottlings that offered consistent quality,” Wine Spectator reported.
Despite the familiar name, Franzia was not involved in another successful strategy to reach budget-conscious wine drinkers: boxed wine. That company, Franzia, founded in 1906 by his grandparents Teresa and Giuseppe Franzia, was sold in the ’70s to The Wine Group, originally a division of Coca-Cola Bottling of New York. Shortly after that company became privately-held, it created the Franzia boxed wine brand in 1985.
Born on May 24, 1943, in Stanislaus County, near California’s Bay Area, Franzia was also the nephew by marriage of Ernest Gallo, one of the founders of E&J Gallo Winery, the world’s largest wine company, the Turlock (Calif.) Journal reported
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After attending Santa Clara University – its mascot is the Broncos, hence the wine company’s name – Franzia began working for the family’s Franzia Brothers Winery. Upset that his family sold that company, Franzia founded Bronco Wine Company in Ceres, California, in the San Joaquin Valley, south of Stockton, with his brother Joseph and cousin John in 1973.
“Core to his vision was a belief that wine should be enjoyed and consumed on every American table,” the family said in a statement. “When asked how Bronco Wine Company can sell wine less expensive than a bottle of water, Fred T. Franzia famously countered, ‘They’re overcharging for the water – don’t you get it?”
Wine Spectator labeled Franzia the “Bad Boy of California Wine” for his contempt of high-end wine. Bronco began buying bankrupt vineyards in the ’80s and acquired the Charles Shaw name in 1995 for just $25,000, Wine Spectator reported.
That led to Bronco Wines launching the Charles Shaw wine for $1.99 at Trader Joe’s stores in California (now priced at $3-$4 in other states), in 2002. That created a new “super-value” category, of wine costing less than $3 per bottle, according to Shanken News Daily.
Bronco sold nearly two million cases in its first year, reaching five million a year later, according to wine and spirits industry tracker Impact Databank. Today, it sells an estimated 1 million cases annually – including organic Charles Shaw wines – and overall, Bronco Wine is the 13th largest wine marketer in the U.S., with 2021 volume of 3.4 million cases, according to Impact Databank.
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Talking about the sale of the 400 millionth bottle of the wine to The New Yorker in 2009, Franzia said, “Take that and shove it, Napa.”
Franzia’s boldness occasionally led to complications. In 1994, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud for falsely labelling grapes, paid a $500,000 fine and had to step down as company president for five years, according to The New Yorker. Franzia reportedly had instructed workers to spread Zinfandel leaves over less expensive grapes in a move he allegedly called “blessing of the loads.”
In an email to Bronco Wine employees, reported by Wine Industry Insight, the family noted that Franzia had been private about his health issues.
Daughter Renata Franzi Price shared a quote of his in the email: “We are fighting a good fight and at the end, we all have an expiration date.”
A post shared by Bronco Wine Company (@broncowineco)
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.

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