History of Charles Shaw Winery

Karen Frazier
Good wine does not have to be expensive.

The Charles Shaw winery, named after owner Charles Shaw, went out of business years ago, but the name and the wine live on. It is now owned by the Bronco Wine Company and is known for producing affordable wines including the infamous "Two Buck Chuck."

The Original Charles Shaw Wines

Decades ago, Charles Shaw was living in Europe when he fell in love with French Beaujolais (made from the Gamay grape). When he returned to the States in 1974, he decided to open a winery in California's famed Napa Valley. He made his own, American version of Gamay wine. One of Shaw's award-winning Gamay wines was sold at Trader Joe's for $2 a bottle, but it was not the same as the now-famous Two-Buck Chuck Trader Joe's currently sells under the Charles Shaw name. Due to a packaging issue in which 10,000 cases of wine were contaminated with a petroleum flavor and vineyard damage caused by root louse, and the winery experienced massive debt by 1990. Because of that, Charles Shaw Winery entered bankruptcy and shut its doors, and Charles Shaw left the winemaking business altogether.

The Bronco Wine Company Buys Charles Shaw

In 1990, a bankruptcy trustee sold the name Charles Shaw to The Bronco Wine Company for less than $30,000. The owners of the Bronco Wine Company saw something in the wine Charles F. Shaw once produced, and CEO of Bronco Wine, Fred Franzia (yes, that Franzia) revisualized the product. His company created the now famous Two Buck Chuck, something the original Charles Shaw knew nothing about at the time. Franzia went on to sell more than 2 billion cases (and growing) of Two Buck Chuck, although Charles Shaw has never received any money at all from the wines that currently bear his name. Today, the Charles Shaw label wines are produced at Bronco's Ceres, California vineyards.

About Two Buck Chuck

Bronco began selling the wines now known as Two Buck Chuck in Trader Joe's in 2002. The wine offered by the Bronco's version of the Charles Shaw winery was sold only to Trader Joe's stores on the West Coast, initially. There are currently over 300 Trader Joe's stores in the United States.

Wine at the Price of a Bottle of Water

The wine was sold for $1.99, which is part of how Two Buck Chuck got its name from a wine critic many years ago. The company is able to keep the costs low by growing the grapes outside of California's expensive wine regions, having huge machine-driven production runs, and using oak chips instead of barrels. Two Buck Chuck is now sold in many states, though the increasing cost of transportation and shipping has caused the name to change, just a little, depending on where you live. So, if you live on, say, the East Coast, you may find that Two Buck Chuck has turned into "Three Buck Chuck" or "Four Buck Chuck". However, regardless of whether you pay a couple of dollars more for Charles Shaw wine, the label itself, is one of the fastest growing wine labels in the country, selling an estimated five million cases per year.

Types of Two Buck Chuck

Two Buck Chuck comes in many red and white varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, white Zinfandel, and several others. And while critics don't love all of the wines, they find many of them, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon, drinkable and pleasant.

Awards and Accolades

Don't let the price fool you. Charles Shaw wines have received a few awards, such as:

  • International Eastern Wine Competition - The Charles Shaw Shiraz won double gold in 2002.
  • California State Fair Wine Competition - Won the title of Best Chardonnay from California in 2005.

Other Bronco Labels

In addition to the Charles Shaw Winery, some of the other over 50 labels carried by Bronco include:

  • Crane Lake
  • Estrella
  • Fat Cat
  • Grand Cru
  • Fox Hollow
  • Forest Glen
  • Redwood
  • Thousand Oaks
  • Coastal Ridge
  • Domaine Napa
  • JW Morris
  • Oak Vineyards

Charles Shaw Winery Label Going Strong

While Charles Shaw himself has been out of the wine business for decades, the label with his name on it is going strong. Two Buck Chuck by the Charles Shaw Winery is a massively popular wine brand. And while it won't ever be mistaken as a fine wine, millions of people enjoy it, finding it a highly affordable wine they like as a "daily drinker" without breaking the bank.

History of Charles Shaw Winery