Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck Is Made By An Iconic Wine Family

The old saying "One man's loss is another man's gain" more or less sums up the story of Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck. Named for Charles Shaw, the 20th-century oenophile who originated his namesake wine, the bargain brand now known as Two Buck Chuck has a long and storied history going back long before an iconic wine family entered the picture.

In the 1970s, Shaw, a native of Michigan (via Stanford Business), was working in Houston for the oil and gas division of a Texas bank when he accepted a transfer to the company's Paris branch where, in a twist of fate, his office was located right behind Steven Spurrier's Académie du Vin. He fell in love with French wine, particularly Beaujolais, and proceeded to convince his wife, Lucy, an heiress, to fund a wine-making venture in Napa Valley (via Business Insider). In 1979, the Shaws debuted their first vintage, a Beaujolais-like varietal known as Gamay.

In a perfect world, that would be the start of a grand success story. In the real world, it was the beginning of Shaw's relatively short-lived career in the California wine industry.

The long and winding road

The Shaws produced award-winning varietals for several years — their Gamay was front and center at three White House state dinners — but the American public hadn't yet discovered the world of wine (via Business Insider). With a surplus on his hands, Charles Shaw, who had attended Stanford University, turned to fellow Stanford alum Joe Colom, the founder of Trader Joe's, for help. Colom relabeled the wine and sold off the excess inventory for $2 a bottle.

Problem solved, right? Not quite. Shaw's troubles were just beginning. Following a series of unfortunate incidents, including a less-than-amicable divorce and a bankruptcy filing, Bronco Wine Company swooped in and bought Shaw's business for $25,000 in 1995, according to USA Today. Bronco Wine Company founder, Fred Franzia – whose grandparents, Teresa and Giuseppe Franzia, established Franzia Wine Company in the early 1900s — founded Bronco Wine Company in 1973 along with his brother and cousin to produce quality wines at affordable prices, according to The Washington Post. That was about a decade before the 1983 debut of Franzia's iconic box wines (via Forbes).

In 2002, Franzia partnered with Trader Joe's to distribute Charles Shaw wines at about $2 a bottle, leading to the nickname Two Buck Chuck. Since then, the brand has continued to be successful. In fact, in 2021, Wine Spectator ranked Bronco Wine Company the 13th largest winemaker in the United States.