Fred Franzia Photo: Gabriela Hasbun/Redux
The late Fred Franzia, who died yesterday at the age of 79, was many things. He was a swaggering, braggadocious scion of a California wine family whose name is best known for being lent to the boxed-wine brand his father sold. He was the creator of Two Buck Chuck (a.k.a. Charles Shaw), a brand his company, Bronco Wine Co., bought and relaunched as a mind-bogglingly affordable brand of wine that became a seminal part of millennial culture. And he was, above all, a man who really knew how to give a quote. As the Press Democrat once put it, “sometimes Fred Franzia sounds like Ralph Nader in vineyard boots.”
In one comment now widely circulating in obituaries — included in a statement by Bronco — Franzia responded to questions about the price of his wine with: “They’re overcharging for the water. Don’t you get it?” Over the years, he had many such hits.
In a 2007 interview with the now-defunct Business 2.0 magazine, he dismissed the importance of provenance, saying: “We can grow on asphalt. Terroir don’t mean shit.” (This was a running theme for him, of course. He also once said to the Press Democrat, “Does anybody complicate Cheerios by saying the wheat has to be grown on the side of a mountain and the terroir in North Dakota is better than Kansas and all this horseshit?”) He made fun of Stanford graduates — “we buy wineries from guys from Stanford who go bankrupt. Some real dumb-asses from there” — and explained that he took no quarter when the man he rented portable bathrooms from for his field workers raised prices, explaining, “to me, it’s a profit center. It’s a shitter war. You got to have a war at all times.”
To people who turned their noses up at his cheap, cheap product, he retorted in a 2007 profile in the New Yorker: “You tell me why someone’s bottle is worth eighty dollars and mine’s worth two dollars. Do you get forty times the pleasure from it?”
Trader Joe’s, home of Two Buck Chuck. Photo: Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Franzia ran into some legal trouble in the 1990s, the San Francisco Chronicle noted, after misrepresenting grape varieties, for which Bronco paid a $2.5 million fine and Franzia personally paid a $500,000 fine. He was apparently miffed about it years later. In the New Yorker story, he explained that he wouldn’t fly California’s state flag outside the Bronco facility because “they’ve screwed us too many times” and added, “we shouldn’t fly the U.S. flag, the bastards. They have a felony on us.”
Along with the state and federal government, Shaw harbored a healthy resentment toward other wine growers, whom he called “bozos in a glass” (in his interview with Business 2.0), and said the winemakers of Napa Valley are totally out of touch. “They want to pretend they’re royalty. Bullshit. We’re all the same,” he told the New Yorker. In that same story, he was quoted as remarking: “Take that and shove it, Napa.” Whatever your opinion about Two Buck Chuck, we can all agree he had a way for needling his adversaries.