Take Two for January 25, 2013

Trader Joe's raises price of Two-Buck Chuck wine (Poll)

Eric Risberg

A worker stacks cases of Charles Shaw wine at the Bronco Wine Company facility in Napa, Calif., Tuesday, April 17, 2007. 55,000 cases a day are coming out of this Napa Valley bottling plant, more than some upscale wineries make in a year. And it's owned not by some blue-blooded purveyor of high-end reds but by Fred Franzia, famous for Two Buck Chuck and the ten bucks taboo, as in: No wine is worth more than $10.

Southern California's favorite, affordable wine can no longer be called by its pet name, Two-Buck Chuck.

Grocery store chain Trader Joe's has increased the price of Charles Shaw-brand wine from $1.99 a bottle, a price its held for more than a decade, to $2.49. A "whopping" 50-cent increase.

What's behind the price hike, and more importantly, what are we going to call it if it's no longer two bucks?

Trader Joe's released a statement about the new price:

"In general, our retail prices change only when our costs change. In the case of Shaw in California, we've held a $1.99 retail price for 11 years. Quite a bit has happened during those years and the move to $2.49 allows us to offer the same quality that has made the wine famous the world over."

Indeed, quite a bit has changed in the last eleven years. We've had inflation, we've had a global economic downturn, but there is something specifc to the wine market that's changed. 

Wine economist Mike Veseth, author of the book "Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck and the Revenge of the Terrorists," says one of the miracles of Two-Buck Chuck is that the conditions eleven years ago when Charles Shaw was released were ripe so to speak for making cheap wine. But now that's changing.

"[Two Buck Chuck] It was created in an era of vast oversupply of inexpensive wine grapes. So there was a long period when wine was a bargain," said Veseth. "That long period of low prices has discouraged new planting, so we're now entering an era where wine is gonna cost more."

In fact, in several states outside California, Charles Shaw wine has never been sold for less than $2.49, but people still called it Two-Buck Chuck.  The monicker has become engrained in its identity, regardless of price. 

Even though New York Times chief wine writer Eric Asimov once called the wine "wretched and vile," he agreed that making the wine "two bucks" was a terrific branding move and it really launched a product that wasn't of the highest quality. 

It's now the top selling wine at Trader Joe's, and the company sells around $5 million cases a year. 

The bad news is this price hike is not anomolous, it's a real sign of higher prices for all budget wine produced in California. 


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