New Yorker reveals true colors behind Two Buck Chuck


An article titled "Drink Up" in the May 18 issue of the New Yorker paints an unflattering, almost cringeworthy, portrait of the man responsible for the cheap, abundant Charles Shaw wine most of us know as Two Buck Chuck. Fred Franzia (whose family was also originally behind Franzia boxed wine) seems to barrel through life with a lack of self-awareness that can create a dilemma -- "Has this guy ever been interviewed before?" you sort of worry to yourself -- but can also make for a reporter's dream subject.

Reporter Dana Goodyear digs in. Franzia, we quickly learn, is a tenacious businessman, no question, who grew up in the wine business (the involvement of his own immediate family aside, Ernest Gallo married Franzia's aunt) and has kept his eye on the prize ever since. The prize? Cold, hard cash. Franzia's particular brand of wealth-seeking has involved tethering himself to the mantra that no wine should cost more than $10 (!!!) and meanwhile gobbling up struggling and bankrupt vineyards Hungry Hungry Hippo-style and repurposing them for his own business.

More juicy details about Fred Franzia after the jump.

While Franzia's vision, detailed in the article, has indeed brought him success (more than 400 million bottles of Two Buck Chuck have sold!), it has also gotten him into trouble with the law. Franzia was convicted of a felony in the mid 1990s for labeling grapes as a more valuable variety than they were. Meh, so he's overzealous, you could say.

It's the details of Franzia's personal behavior that cause some real squirms. Later in the article, he basically dismisses the death of an employee, a 17-year-old undocumented woman who died from a heat stroke while tending to some grape vines (which has led United Farm Workers, the article says, to urge people to boycott Trader Joe's, which sells Two Buck Chuck).

Franzia goes on to cajole Goodyear into following him over to an owl condo (used for pest control) and after banging on the pole with a pair of pliers until the owl swoops out says he wishes it would have shit on Goodyear. This makes him laugh until he cries. He later refers to his daughter's "titties," and the article concludes with Franzia smacking his lips and muttering "Money ..."

Def. worth checking out but if it's not your bag, the issue also has a good article on delayed gratification as it relates to success in life, in which marshmallows feature prominently.

P.S. In the Twin Cities, Two Buck Chuck is actually Three Buck Chuck. The article notes this, saying that in areas where Franzia is unable to do his own distributing, the wine costs a little more.