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Sep 7, 2007 02:19 PM

Winemakers Are Bozos In A Glass

According to Fred Franzia, the mastermind of Two Buck Chuck:

Gee, Fred sounds like my kind of drinking buddy.

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  1. This guy's winemaking is akin to being a chef at Frito-Lay. The product he puts out, while it can occasionally taste as good as any junk food, has very little to do with actual wine.

    5 Replies
    1. re: oolah

      Ok first of all Haut-Brion is in Bordeaux NOT Burgundy....wonder who made that mistake?!
      Fred is a clown and his wines reflect his style, no class, no pedigree and in bad taste most of the time. I dig finding a value as much as the next person but as someone that drinks wine every day I can not gag down that insipid, sweetish, flabby plonk. Oolah is is exactly like junk food.

      1. re: bubbles4me

        Living in Wine Country and knowing enough people in wine societies who spend all their free time obsessing over wine, and being duped by 2 Buck at blind tastings... I'd be careful about being a little too smug.

        1. re: Eat_Nopal

          Been in the wine business for over 10 years and trust me people have tried to blind taste me on 2 buck chuck many times and it always gets a, "would not buy". I will happily kick down the extra cash and get a nice $10 Cotes du Rhone that has some flavor of place.

      2. re: oolah

        I dunno, I think it is actually wine, and while it may not be great wine, it's as good or better than most cheap wine made in California.

        I think it is perfectly laudable to question how overpriced US wine is. Why can I get such good wines for less than $10 from Spain, Italy and France despite the worthless US $? If Franzia puts the bad low-end wineries in CA out of business, more power to him. If some of them step up and make something actually worth drinking for $8-$10 a bottle, he has done a good deed.

        1. re: kenito799

          The EU subsidizes winegrowing which has led to a glut of unsold French, Spanish and Italian wine, this drives down prices at the bottom end.

          Most California wineries sell all the wine they make so they have no incentive to lower prices. If more people stop buying their wine and start buying good cheap wine from Europe or South America then California wine prices will drop. On the other hand there are some good values out of California these days; Cline California Syrah sells for $7.99 in my local wine shop - it is fantastic for that price.

      3. That article was hilarious. Franzia must stay up at night dreaming up new ways to annoy the pretentious vineyard owners who struggle to stay afloat while he laughs all the way to the bank.
        So they aren't fine wines. Big deal. How different is this from the traditional vin ordinaire that people have always enjoyed in Europe? Why can't Americans have reasonably priced versions of this made easily available?
        Two Buck Chuck was a gateway wine for a lot of people. Cheers for Franzia!

        1. Nice to read about a wacky, contrarian, anti-establishment type. Sounds like the nuns beat him a few too many times or the Jesuits at Santa Clara rode his ass. Any way, $2 buck chuck has probably helped the wine biz way more then any of the insiders would ever admit. Good for him.

          13 Replies
          1. re: ML8000

            You are so right. People don't start drinking wine at the $25 - $50 price point.
            If they hadn't become comfortable with including wine as part of their lives at the level that Frazier made possible, many of them never would have moved up to the more expensive, complex wines that his critics make. They should be sending this guy flowers and gifts. He opened up a market that didn't exist..

              1. re: MakingSense

                Right... and potato chips are a gateway to foie gras.

                Drinking bad cheap wine doesn't necessarily lead to drinking fine expensive wine. In fact, it usually leads to drinking more bad cheap wine. Not sure where you're drawing your assumptions from.

                I am totally for having an inexpensive American wine, but this stuff has more in common with cherry cola than wine. If it had been the first wine I'd had, it probably would have turned me off entirely.

                1. re: oolah

                  We're not talking Ripple or Thunderbird here. Some of Franzia's stuff has won blind taste tests which makes his critics even more insane. Nobody is arguing that this is fine wine, just decent quality wine that he can market for a value price. He makes no pretensions to anything more.

                  Not everybody who drinks wine cares about making a big deal out of it. Sometimes a glass of wine is just a glass of wine. It goes with Tuesday's meat loaf or Wednesday's baked chicken. Folks aren't talking about notes of this or that fruit or scents of whatever; they're talking about the notes their kid brought home from school or the dollars and cents to pay the plumber.
                  They're happy with top quality potato chips. Can't stand liver so have no reason to even try foie gras.
                  The Two Buck Chuck is fine by them. For a special occasion, they'll buy a special bottle. They would have never done that except that now wine is part of their life.

                  No one ever said that they would drink "fine expensive wine." Most people never do anywhere. They don't care that much. Why should America be different? Franzia has just opened up some new pleasures for more people. Why should that upset his critics so much?

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Well, you implied it when you said "nobody starts out drinking $25-$50" wines. From that statement I inferred that you believe that people who drink 2-buck chuck end up drinking cases of Lafite by the end of the day. That's where I disagree.

                    I have no problem with 2-buck chuck or people who drink it -- theres certainly a big market for it. My problem is with Franzia making silly claims like "no wine is worth more than $10" and portraying himself as some kind of iconoclastic hero, when in fact he's one of the biggest industrial wine makers in all of California. I think he's doing a disservice to people by posturing like that.

                    Most of the wine I drink costs less than $25 -- it just doesn't happen to be 2BC.

                    1. re: oolah

                      People can start with simple wines that aren't rotgut and when they first begin drinking wine, they look for moderately priced bottles. If they ask advice, wine clerks who want their business advise enjoyable, approachable wines - not plonk, not expensive complex wines that they won't appreciate the value of.

                      Franzia is bombastic because he is having a grand time getting a rise out of the elitists. The people who enjoy his wine couldn't care less. The people who really appreciate fine wines know he's not going to make any difference in the real art of fine winemaking. Industrial winemaking won't affect that segment.
                      If what he does however brings competition and lowers the cost of some wines that might possibly have been priced artificially high, it's good for everyone.

                  2. re: oolah

                    None of the Charles Shaw wines I've tasted were anything like cherry cola. They were undistinguished and boring but dry, drinkable, and easily the best wines I've had in that price range. It's hard to find a better wine without spending more than three times as much.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I agree, and cherry cola is indeed the flavor profile of Yellowtail and many other Australian and California wines, even some pricier ones. At least the 2BC I have tried did not taste like it was made for people who drink soda pop with every meal.

                    2. re: oolah

                      Liverwurst is the gateway to pate, and pate is the gateway to foie gras.

                      1. re: ML8000


                        People who badmouth 2 buck chuck remind me of Apple fanboys, we're just not tasteful enough to get it.

                        Geez folks, it's vin ordinaire, if you really don't like a bottle, take the empty back and TJ's will give you back your 2 bucks. I'm not going to be opening a $50 bottle with my five minute pasta on a weeknight.

                  3. re: ML8000

                    Bill Franzia isn't anti-establishment. He *is* the establishment.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      He's not part of the Napa Valley tastemakers establishment. In a capitalist sense, you're right and he says so much.

                      1. re: ML8000

                        Per Wine Business Monthly, Bronco was the fourth-largest U.S. wine company last year, and sold 22 million cases. That's not just about capitalism, it's also about taste--people choose to drink his wine.


                  4. Give it up on the "duped in blind tastings" already. 2 buck chuck has its place, but anyone that believes that the "blind" tastings that have 2 buck chuck placing well aren't reminiscent of his grape-swapping days doesn't know Fred all that well. That's right, some wine-makers deliver samples that aren't representative of those that they bottle. I firmly believe that Fred's been banging this whole, "oh, don't be a wine snob" drum quite successfully and is going to ride the gray train and will do whatever he needs to do to make as much money as possible. The man still makes a more expensive wine - if he's so convinced that super-cheap is the way to go, why does it still get made? Fred's a self-serving guy who was smart enough to get into Trader Joe's exclusively - this makes his cheap wine the holy grail of cheap wines to folks. If he got out of the exclusive deal, he'd be stuck with wines that are within a buck or two of his and just be another bottle of cheap wine with no story.

                    As far as blind-tastings at homes, parties or even wine shops go - well, you may not have been to many. When you're doing tastings with regular folks, the spit bucket is for one thing only - junk wine. I look back on some of my tasting journals (when I thought it would be helpful to remember), I laugh - the larger script, the semi-coherent half-sentences, the sort-of words ('YMGOOD, BUY!!!") - it all points to someone that's enjoying all of the wine. There's a point at which you could feed me anything from a 2 to a 200-bottle of wine and it will produce the same happy smile where you're convinced that I have just found my favorite bottle.

                    That being said, there's no perfect price point for wine. Anyone that has had more than 5 bottles of wine in their lives will know that price is not an indicator of how good wine will be - heck, this is the rule for anything in life. Since when has expensive ever meant that something will automatically be better than something cheaper?

                    But let's not kid ourselves. You can tell me that a BMW 3 Series and your Toyota Avalon are comparable. You can even tell me that the Mercedes C-Class and your Volkswagon Jetta are on equal footing. But when you start telling me that even the Camry and the Kia Rio are on equal footing, I'm going to call major BS. Just like 2BC and expensive wine, you can say that both cars will get you from point A to point B just fine. They'll both come from grapes and they'll both have alcohol (aka - they'll both have doors and a steering wheel and will be covered in something resembling steel on certain body parts). Beyond that, they'll start to differ. If you don't require certain appointments (oak aging, aging at all, older vines, etc.), then you'll be fine. However, if you do believe that certain things add to your "driving" experience, you'll seek those things out. This doesn't mean you won't be able to drive 2BC and be happy, but you'll be aware that there are better models out there when you want to enjoy yourself.

                    You may be perfectly happy with 2BC. But for goodness' sake, be happy with 2BC. If you're only happy if you're putting down more expensive wines and calling people stupid or "duped" then you're lying to yourself.

                    Keep in mind that the greatest thing about wine is the ability for wine to keep your food in that "happy place." I save my best reds for the best cuts of steak simply because I will forever be able to have that fantastic first taste of steak followed by a bold red over and over again as my palate gets to rock back and forth between fantastic flavors. If I'm having whatever, I can drink whatever - and that's the good thing about 2BC or any of the cheaper wines. If I'm making spaghetti sauce with ground round and Prego for a 20-minute dinner, a bold Sangiovese is a waste of money and my taste buds - nothing will compliment anything properly and I'll be disappointed in everything and wonder why I opened an expensive wine for nothing.

                    If one wants to demystify wine, I suggest anything put out by the Wine Brats. Fred is a businessman intent on selling you more of HIS wine and nothing more. The Wine Brats actually want you to love wine, no matter what the price.

                    36 Replies
                    1. re: Stephmo

                      Franzia's deal with Trader Joe's is more complex than just a business deal. Unique aspects of the two companies have allowed them to cut costs through vertical integration and streamlining the distribution process.

                      To put it another way, I don't think there's another wine company that could profitably produce that quality wine at that price point in that quantity, and I'm not sure there's another retailer that could make a profit selling it.

                      1. re: Stephmo

                        There seems to be a sense that the only choices are 2BC with take-out or a Sassicaia with a prime porterhouse. TBC works well on a number of levels, from modest snack to somethign resembling a real meal, and that's fine. Why should Franzia not want lots of folks to drink his wine? Most of us, I think, end up in between on most nights. I know I'll be usually be drinking a $9 aglianico with the sauce I'm making from san marzano tomatoes. There's an ocean of well-made, delicious, and distinctive wine right there between $2 and $25. Just look.

                        1. re: obob96

                          In California, I haven't found any delicious wine for under $6 in a few years. For everyday-drinking styles of wine I'm typically spending $8-15. And even in that price range I have to drink a lot of mediocre bottles to find a few delicious wines I want to buy by the case.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            RL, you have a good palate. You find everyday wines at moderate prices but more important to those who don't yet have your skill, they'll find learning experiences at the lower end. They'll discover those good wines as their taste improves, but they've got to drink a few mediocre specimens, maybe even a baaaad bottle or two, before they can tell a good one when they encounter it. Sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than from all the good choices we make. A journey.

                            1. re: MakingSense

                              I would highly recommend tasting stuff without knowing what it is... then deciding whether you like it or not. I recently tasted my first glass of a D'Yquiem and thought it was good but nothing specially. It was nice that I wasn't conditioned to believe it was "one of the best in the world" prior to having it... as I didn't know anything about it.

                              I wonder how many people's advanced palettes are really just the result of being told what is good, and then learning to identify it... and judging other stuff (not like it) to be inferior.

                              In the ideal world... you could try the same two wines everyday for a year without knowing what they are... then deciding which you liked better.

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                Try posting THAT idea on General Topics and watch the fireworks!

                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  As an addenda to that, if you drink only two similar wines for a period of even a month or two, you would get quite familiar with them. Then you could realistically find the difference changing glassware does or does not make.

                                  1. re: yayadave

                                    Realistically, most people use the same old wine glasses all the time. They just pull them out of the cabinet or dishwasher. Or they set the table by what glasses look good with the rest of the settings they're using. Maybe the acrylic stems if they're out by the pool.
                                    It's only when people get really "into" wines that they start playing around with the variables like stemware. I hope they're not putting 2BC in Riedel - it would probably taste like UpChuck.

                                    1. re: yayadave

                                      Interesting you should ask...


                                      From the NYTimes this weekend:

                                      Do wineglasses make such a difference? And if so, how many are enough? I attended a Riedel seminar held recently at the company’s New York showroom to see for myself. It was led by Max Riedel.

                                      We started with a typically full-flavored California chardonnay, from Kendall Jackson. In Riedel’s Vinum Chardonnay glass, notes of tropical fruit wafted up and expanded lusciously in the mouth. We transferred the wine into the Vinum Sauvignon Blanc glass, where it seemed to lose depth. Creamy oak and vanilla overpowered the other flavors. It also seemed unpleasantly tannic.

                                      Finally, we poured the chardonnay into a “joker” glass — those miserly little wineglasses that you can barely fit your nose into. In this glass, alcohol burned on the nose, and the tropical fruit disappeared.

                                      A surprised murmur swept through the room.

                                      1. re: oolah

                                        Bad reporting (by a business section reporter, not the NYT's wine writer). Riedel-sponsored seminars are designed to sell their glasses. The article should have cited the independent laboratory tests that found people can't tell the difference. See "Shattered Myths" by Daniel Zwerdling in the August 2004 Gourmet.

                                        Here's a report on an amateur test with interesting results:


                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            That guy seems a little biased (he makes his own wine glass) but overall some interesting things to mull & research further. Particularly:

                                            "In 1998, Frederic Brochet, a researcher at the University of Bordeaux, fooled wine professionals into thinking that a white wine was a red wine simply by adding food coloring to it. They didn't stop there. The second part of the study was sampling two wines. The wine professionals were told the first one was an inexpensive wine. Then a second wine was brought and the professional were told it was very expensive. All the wine professionals preferred the second one. Of course, the first and the second wines were the same. Brochet stated that all of the information that people have, the label, the cost, the producer, etc. plays a huge role in their opinion of the wine. He supposes the same thing is happening with wine glasses. People prefer the Riedel because they cost more, they look good, they are delicate and wine experts and writers say they make a difference. But all the science says they don't. "

                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                              That's CRAZY. I don't find it too hard to believe the cheap / expensive experiment, but I can't imagine confusing a red and white wine -- I wonder if there was other psychology at work too. I found a PDF of the full report in English in case anyone is interested (experiment described on pages 9-11)

                                              Of course expectations play a role, but it's odd that it's so one-sided. For example I recently was opened a relatively expensive burgundy and I was actually disappointed because it wasn't as *good* as I thought it would be. If someone had told me it was cheap swill, I would have enjoyed it more since I would have been pleasantly surprised with its quality.

                                              BTW, Brochet now works for Domaine Ampelidae, which makes a fantastic Sauvignon Blanc (Marigny Neuf) that retails for about $10. Clean, crisp, and lively. Great value :)

                                              1. re: oolah

                                                The subjects in the white-dyed-red study were enology students, not wine professionals:


                                              2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                Makes perfect sense to me. Basically the wine label, the price/vintage (real or fake) amounts to packaging and people (professional or otherwise) pick up information from it.

                                                It sounds like the current vodka bottle craze, i.e., .25 cents spend on a cool looking bottle means the price can be upped to premium even though very few people can ever tell the difference.

                                                Which from below is the best, costs the most and has the most refined palette?

                                                1. re: ML8000

                                                  Of course the single estate Polish one HAAAAS to be superior by FAR. They government regulators wouldn't allow them to use such a cool bottle if it weren't the best... and of course its Single Estate that by itself denotes superior quality.


                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                      Only fallowed with cow dung by organically fed heirloom draft horses.

                                                    2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                      By actual count, Poland now has 18,367 half acre plots named "My Old Comrad Estate." Each one produce half case vodka each year.

                                                    3. re: ML8000

                                                      By law, vodka sold in the U.S. has to be neutral in taste.

                                                      Not that it is, but fussing over brands of vodka has one of the highest high snobbery-to-substance ratios of any drink preference.

                                                    4. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                      The best I've seen along those lines was one that Candid Camera did at a wine convention of some sort, with a tasting table of four glasses of wine. People tasted, found dramatic differences between one and the next... and all four were poured out of the same bottle.

                                                  1. re: oolah

                                                    All right Oolah. That's enough! You sound like Frazier's brother. Riedel is trying to sell wine glasses.

                                              3. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                I'd be interested in seeing what people would say too. I agree that it's nice to learn your own tastes without being influenced by what others think is good (ignorance is bliss, right?), but I've also found that knowledge about a subject helps you appreciate it more. And it's certainly true that other people's opinions can help enrich yours, even when you disagree.

                                                For example, I enjoy baseball more when I can understand which hitters and pitchers are regarded as the best and how they go about their craft, and I enjoy food more when I can understand which quality ingredients the chef used and how he crafted a particular dish. By the same token, I like to know when the wine I'm drinking is well-regarded and when it's not. I like to think my judgment is strong enough that it won't unduly influence me, but I'm willing to risk the corruption for the sake of knowing.

                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                  At the risk of parroting the NYTimes entirely too much, wanted to post one more link that addresses your comment above. I think Asimov expresses what I was trying to say well -- knowing about wine can of course cause bias, but it also enriches the experience. I totally respect your position -- just wanted to offer a different perspective.


                                                2. re: MakingSense

                                                  Sure, it's important to taste all sorts of wines to learn what you like.

                                                  I was just responding to the claim that there's "an ocean of well-made, delicious, and distinctive wine ... between $2 and $25." You don't have to be a very experienced wine drinker to learn that there's not much distinctive (at least not in a good way) at the bottom of that price range.

                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    I think there's a huge market out there that didn't exist a decade or two ago - the market that Franzia serves - that by and large doesn't need, and maybe not even care about, "distinctive" wines, although some of them will move up to that category. Marketing efforts have made it an agreeable part of "lifestyle" for many and it's an adjunct to the middle class food scene. As people talked about above, they don't need Riedel stemware. The glassware from Bed, Bath and Beyond looks nice on their tables.
                                                    If they enjoy life and Fred Franzia makes that possible, it's fine by me. I doubt it has much effect on the high end except some of the science and technology may benefit everyone but that's another topic....

                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                      As an occasional wine drinker - never spent more than 12 bucks - is there any comparison to be made with beer here? Perhaps the trend is in the other direction, where someone learning about wine, but without the means to spend $25-50 on any 1 liter beverage might not realize how satisfying wine can be?

                                                      I didn't drink much beer at all until about 7-8 years ago because I thought it was junky tasting. I only had experience with Coors, Bud, etc and it was nasty.

                                                      Then I had the pleasure of trying some local micro-brews along with some good German and Dutch beers. Within a year or so, I developed a taste for a few of the less expensive beers (though still hate Coors and Bud).

                                                      Now, I'm part of the market for beer, and will usually spend $20-25 a case, but occasionally will order a more expensive beer when eating out.

                                                      Could this happen with wine as well?

                                                      1. re: GDSinPA

                                                        I don't see how drawing more consumers in at any level can hurt the wine industry. If people get used to drinking wine inevitably at least some of them will start to look for better quality stuff and continue to increase their spending on wine.

                                                        1. re: GDSinPA

                                                          Cheap wine is not as aggressively flavorless as Coors or Budweiser.

                                                          Cheap or expensive, wine is made from grapes. Good beer is made from barley; Bud is made from rice, corn, and wheat.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            "aggressively flavorless"
                                                            Good point. Fantastic word combination there - almost an oxymoron, but it works!

                                                            1. re: GDSinPA

                                                              Yeah, I thought that whole post by RL was great, very pure. Sorta "aggressively the color of water." An essay in three sentences.

                                                        2. re: MakingSense

                                                          nothing wrong with glass ware from Bed,bath and Beyond for wine.One doesn't need expensive crystal to drink wine from.My grandfather and his siblings grew up with a pitcher of wine on the table ,and just drank it no doubt from regular glassware. More than likely it was wine made by my great grandfather,who brought the skill from Germany,since he had relatives there who owned vineyards I was told.
                                                          We didn't have wine much growing up,except for special occassions.
                                                          Usually my dad would by Blue Nun,and Webers or Zellar Schwarzkatz.
                                                          Champagne for New Years was Taylor,or Mum's.Sometimes he'd get
                                                          Martini and Rossi or other italian wine.
                                                          I don't think he ever bought anything over twenty dollars,if that much.Weber's he bought because the family drank it.Most of the wine we did have seemed to be mainly german and some italian.
                                                          I'm not a wine snob.It is in the taste and flavour for me.I would prefer a wine that costs $5.00 over one that costs $50.00,if the $5 one has the better flavour.Even the local supermarket has wines you can taste.
                                                          Yes,the market Franzia caters to doesn't care about distintive wines.many of these people anyways are beer and liquor drinkers.Wine is for like New Years and weddings or anniverseires(Sorry),not for everyday,like beer.
                                                          Drawing more consumers in I would think would sell more wine,though whether the average person will start to pay for more high end wines remains to be seen.

                                                          1. re: HollyDolly

                                                            Holly, couldn't agree with you more about BB&B glasses. Great value. So are lots of others that many people use to set lovely tables or enjoy for entertaining. My daughters and I have cases of different types of glasses that we share so we never have to use plastic for any party of any size. We also use heirloom and new crystal too. Frankly, I think tumblers, Italian-style, under the trees or on the kitchen table are charming for casual meals and I hate it when people get snotty about it. Spending your money on Riedel or whatever is your choice, so leave others alone about theirs.
                                                            Wine should be part of enjoying life just as our families did. If some want to move on to the study of it and finer wines, I'm sure they'll find rewards. We'll all gain.

                                                            1. re: HollyDolly

                                                              "Yes,the market Franzia caters to doesn't care about distintive wines.many of these people anyways are beer and liquor drinkers.Wine is for like New Years and weddings or anniverseires(Sorry),not for everyday,like beer."

                                                              Bad, bad assumption.... lots of people here in wine country have 2 buck chuck as an everyday wine I even when they have a 200 bottle cellar with some interesting stuff for special occassions... or maybe the people I know are just cheap.

                                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Well, yeah, not much distinction at $2, but often somethig well or decebntly made. At mid-point--say, from $10-$14--I find it fairly easy to land on distinctive wines, whether it's a Corbieres vin gris or a spicy Rosso Piceno. I'm also lucky living in New York, with so many retail choices.

                                                  2. Check out the NY Times today. There's an article about wines under $10. There are over 450 comments posted to it and no one can say enough about Chuck.