Wine Club Newsletter - October 2022
Wine Club Newsletter - October 2022
The Complicated Legacy of Fred Franzia
by Samantha Sette
Wine industry icon Fred Franzia died earlier this month at the age of 79. A prominent figure in the California wine scene, Franzia built his legacy around increasing American consumers’ access to bottles at bargain prices. However, the man behind iconic brands like Charles Shaw wine—affectionately known as “Two-Buck Chuck”—had his fair share of critics.
In his time, Franzia grabbed headlines as much for his innovations as his questionable business practices, the latter which landed him in courtrooms more than once. But do a person’s successes forgive their missteps? In all, Franzia’s place in wine history is… well, complicated.
In 1973, Franzia co-founded the Bronco Wine Company in Ceres, California, with his brother Joseph and cousin John. The company’s approach to creating best-selling wines involved more than simply choosing the right grapes. It relied on vertical integration, which is the practice of overseeing every stage of production rather than outsourcing them to other companies. This gave Franzia a deep level of control over the company’s products and translated to huge success.
Today, Bronco Wine is considered one of the largest vineyard owners in the U.S., producing wine under more than 100 labels for a global market.
Through it all, Franzia stood out for his anti-snob spirit around wine, a trait that often put him at odds with mainstream Napa culture. He outwardly criticized the famous California wine region for its unaffordability, pushing forward an alternative: cheap wine marked lower than a case of water. When pressed as to how such pricing was possible, he famously quipped: “They’re overcharging for the water… Don’t you get it?”
Bending the Rules
Franzia understood that value is something created in the mind of consumers. Even low-quality grapes can produce a wine of high value, so long as people think what fills their glass is of a high quality. But Franzia took this principle to extremes.
In 1993, he pled guilty to misrepresenting grapes in some of Bronco Wine Company’s offerings. Franzia reasoned that using and marketing a varietal like Chardonnay in a blend would result in a loss of character. Deception, it seemed, was a more profitable alternative. Bronco Wine employees would sprinkle prized Zinfandel leaves over cheaper grapes in a practice Franzia called “blessing the loads.” A similar tactic was used to market Carignan and Grenache grapes as Cabernet Sauvignon.
His status as a major player in the California wine scene was not enough to avoid conviction. Franzia was forced to step down from his company for five years and pay a personal fine of $500,000 with an additional $2.5 million sum from his company.
Franzia returned to court in the early 2000s to address decades of exploiting a loophole in California labeling laws. The Napa Valley Vintners questioned the integrity of three bottles sold by Bronco Wine that had “Napa” in their names but were made with grapes from the Central Valley. This went against legislation that requires 75% of grapes to come from Napa to reference the region.
After a lengthy legal dispute, Bronco was given a deadline to sell off its remaining inventory of over 50,000 bottles. Anything that didn’t sell in time had to be relabeled, distilled or destroyed.
The Rise of Two-Buck Chuck
Much like Franzia, Trader Joe’s founder Joe Coulombe built his company in part on the philosophy that value is created in the mind of consumers. Therefore, it’s not surprising that its aisles served as an incubator for one of Franzia’s most successful bottles: Charles Shaw, otherwise known as “Two-Buck Chuck.”
Franzia was ultimately responsible for cementing the brand’s icon status, but he was not, in fact, its creator. That honor goes to Charles Shaw, who started his eponymous Napa winery in 1974. This was before Northern California became the wine-soaked Land of Oz it is today, enabling Shaw to stand out in the industry with an American version of Gamay wine. The award-winning bottles sold for $13.50 back in 1983—more than $80 a bottle in 2022 dollars—until things started going south.
A series of unfortunate events wreaked havoc in Shaw’s life. A production issue tainted over 1,400 bottles of wine, and the French grape did not support a chic audience in the U.S. To make matters worse, his wife filed for divorce.
Franzia, who had a sixth sense for buying companies in financial peril, swooped in. In 1990, after Shaw filed for bankruptcy, Bronco bought Charles Shaw wine for $27,000. Today, the name “Charles Shaw” on the label is seemingly the only remaining trace of the winemaker’s influence on the brand. After taking control, Franzia completely redesigned the production process to slash costs, using inexpensive grapes from lesser-known regions in California.
In 2002, Charles Shaw wine hit Trader Joe’s shelves under a private label for $1.99 per bottle. The precise origins of its quirky nickname are unclear, but the term “Two– Buck Chuck” began appearing on Urbandictionary.com as early as 2003. “Charles Shaw—a dirt-cheap (but better than you’d expect) wine you can get at Trader Joe’s for $2 a bottle in Cali,” reads the entry.
The wine’s true quality is still up for debate. In The Secret Life of Groceries, author Benjamin Lorr describes it as “so devoid of character it achieves an almost frictionless drinkability, yet neither too sweet nor thin to inspire scorn.”
Regardless of where one’s opinion lands, Two-Buck Chuck is undeniably an iconic American wine. Perhaps there’s a grander point to be made about stateside palates, perhaps not. But one fact is clear: For it, we have Fred Franzia to thank.
Gary Parker, Owner
The WineSellar & Brasserie
2021 Rancho Coyote Noir Blanc, Lucca’s Vineyard
Growing Region Russian River Valley, California
Varietal Composition 100% Pinot Noir
Fermentation 8 Months in French Oak
Alcohol Content 12.5%
Suggested Retail $30.00
WineSellar Club Price $26.99
Broad Strokes: Only 50 Cases made, we took half!
From the winery, Lehn & Richard Goetz: We met playing tennis in San Diego and fell in love over a mutual passion for gourmet food, wine, and world travel. In August 1989, the courtship thrived along the founding Cafe Coyote Mexican Restaurant in Old Town San Diego. We lived over the restaurant for five years and nurtured it to ultimately become one of San Diego’s Landmark Restaurants and Relationships over the past 30 years! In July 2013, the ultimate success of Cafe Coyote and a daily Alaska Air flight from San Diego to Sonoma afforded us the opportunity to acquire 70 prime acres in the Russian River Valley and dive headfirst into our lifelong dream together, of planting our very own Vineyard, making world class wines, building our brand and making a second life. This is where the birth of our second child, Rancho Coyote Vineyards & Winery came to fruition.
The clear, Pinot Noir shaped bottle is quite appropriate. I love the whimsical label (reverse negative) and the most excellent verbiage on the back label. Themed after their two Goldendoodle dogs, Datka and Lucca. The wine has a white gold color and is clear, brilliant.
What is so interesting to me is that the red wine grape doesn’t really show any of the typical characteristics of a Pinot Noir. Instead, it has white wine-based aromatics, such as white peach, buttered popcorn, caramel. Star fruit, honey and white raspberry.
The smooth and balanced entry shows youthful, vibrant fruit, held firm by a unique set of “fruit” acids like those you find in kiwi, star fruit, and even pineapple. The medium bodied wine is dry, with pleasant depth of fruit and the really cool acids to finish.
Not surprisingly, the fruit acids of kiwi, star fruit and pineapple show relevance to the flavor profile. From the nose, I got the popcorn flavor, but much less so the caramel and butter. Honey is there, with crispy red apple and that elusive white peach. Distant wood notes are soft but add to the complexity of this lovely, unique wine.
Great way to start an appetizer session, with cold cuts, cheeses and apples!
2017 Torre Zambra, Colle Maggio Riserva Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Growing Region Calle Maggio, Villamagna, Abruzzo, Italy
Varietal Composition 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Fermentation 20% New Oak, Stainless & Concrete Vats
Alcohol Content 14%
Suggested Retail $30.00
WineSellar Club Price $26.99
Broad Strokes: 97 Points, Luca Maroni, 91 Decanter
The Torre Zambra estate lies on the first plot cultivated by the family from 1910 onwards and is one of the most historic cellars in Abruzzo, founded by Laurentino De Cerchio in 1961, then taken to higher levels by his son Riccardo in subsequent years. The family chose Villamagna as a place to cultivate vines in Abruzzo for characteristics that are unique in the region. The Villamagna district has a centuries-old tradition in winegrowing, reflected in its name (‘villa magna’ in Latin means ‘large farm’), and has always been considered the most suitable for Montepulciano grape cultivation. Its hills vaunt a rare microclimate that makes them some of the world’s top wine country. The proximity of the sea and the mountains creates swift day–night and seasonal temperature changes that are the secret behind the truly fragrant white wines and the complex, extremely cellar-able reds.
Hell of a package, I must say! It just looks like the wine is going to be wonderful. Gold embossing on the winery image, the printing, using different sizes and types of fonts, all on a black background.
Solid black cherry aromatics. The nose is enriched with indications of undergrowth, ripe fruit, followed by spices, coffee, tobacco, and hints of cocoa on the finish. It has a delicious aroma of dark chocolate, subtle spices, and a whisper of basil.
Medium in body and weight. Smooth, compacted fruit entry is lovely. The tannins are delicate and perhaps understated yet deliver ample structure. It is supported by a cool roundness and excellent balance without being too aggressive.
Solid and deep black cherry fruit, with dairy cream, blackberry and even violets. Wood notes on the mid-palate, with vanilla, spices, nutmeg and toasted nuts. Herb underbrush, asphalt (tar?) mineral and that basil whisperer.
This wine screams for Italian dishes, and of course, coming from Abruzzo, using truffle, saffron, herbed lamb and sausages, and rustic pizza. Totally yummy!
2019 Duas Quintas, Ramos Pinto
Growing Region Duoro Valley, Portugal
Varietal Composition 51% Touriga Nacional, 26% Touriga Franco, 23% Traditional Duoro Varietals: Tinta Ruiz, Tinta Da Barca, Tinta Barroco, Tinto Cao
Fermentation 18 Months Oak, Vats, Stainless Steel
Alcohol Content 14.5%
Suggested Retail $28.00
WineSellar Club Price $23.39
Founded by Adriano Ramos Pinto in 1880, Casa Ramos Pinto rapidly became noted, at the time, for its innovative and enterprising strategy. Associated with quality bottled wines, it began operating on the Brazilian market in the early 20th century and quickly became responsible for half of the wine exported to South America, whilst it was still conquering generations of loyal customers in Portugal and Europe.
These were the natural results of a forward-thinking strategy, based on the modernization of selection, batching and ageing circuits, and the special care which Adriano Ramos Pinto devoted to the packaging and promotion of his outstanding wines.
I think the packaging is very classy and well-stated. I love the family crest – love the embossing – love the simple yet focused statement the label evokes. The wine is black at the core with dark red edges.
These grape varietals are mostly what make up vintage port, so we get the fragrance of vintage port on this wine, minus the high alcohol and sweetness. It is very “wide”, with black cherry, blueberry and blackberry, damp earth, wood, and spices.
This medium bodied wine has both vertical and horizontal presence. Vertical is the angular acidity which livens the palate juices. Horizontal is the dark fruit expanding across the palate. It is fresh, vibrant, with a drying finish.
Concentrated blackberry and blueberry fruits, with very ripe black plum. It has a spice to it that gives a nice flavor edge. There is a note of wood influence, though mild, but the overall power and presence of the dark fruits is remarkable.
This wine is a keeper for the cellar, I would guess ten years would be about right. For now, grilled meats with Aioli would be divine! Winery recommends Beef Carpaccio.
2013 Springfield Estate, “The Work of Time”
Growing Region Robertson, West Cape, South Africa
Varietal Composition 43% Cabernet Franc, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 14% Petite Verdot
Fermentation 24 Months French Oak, 4 Years in Bottle
Alcohol Content 14%
Suggested Retail $42.00
WineSellar Club Price $37.79
Winemaker Abrie Bruwer: Springfield Estate is a family-owned wine estate situated in the Western Cape of Southern Africa. The Bruwers are descended from the French Hugenots and have been farming this land for five generations. At Springfield Estate, we are passionate about our craft. We believe that our name is our most precious possession, and our motto, Made On Honour, applies to every facet of our being.
Our wine at Springfield Estate is made from single vineyards, mostly using natural yeast. This allows the character and the individuality of the grape to truly show itself. Due to our natural yeast fermentation, we strive to work as naturally as possible, both in the vineyard and the cellar.
Arriving in beautiful wine boxes, each wine is individually wrapped and stamped with a label on the outside. Well Done! The wine is an opaque, dark ruby red at the core and slightly garnet on the edges. It does NOT show any signs of its nearly ten years of age.
Complex aromatics brings a multitude of scents: raspberry, mineral, touch of cedar, black cherry, smoky black fruits, blackberry, tobacco, leather, earthy herbal tones, red meat, mineral and licorice, mushroom, underbrush, and eucalyptus.
Balanced tannins, with a dry, smooth, long and silky finish. The wine is medium full in body. It has an enveloping, velvety feel in the mouth. It’s actually perfectly seamless in texture, save for a tiny bit of heat being a lone offender.
The wine has a good dollop of vanilla oak, along with the black and red fruits from the nose. I love the touch of leather and tobacco, and especially enjoyed the coffee notes. Not detected from the nose are gorgeous ripe flavors of black fig.
This lovely wine has years and years to go in the cellar, but you can drink now, it is so smooth. Watch for sediment, perhaps decant it.
2018 Syrah, Lone Madrone, Paso Robles
Growing Region Willow Creek District, Paso Robles, Ca.
Varietal Composition 100% Syrah
Fermentation 18 Months Hungarian Neutral Oak
Alcohol Content 14.5%
Suggested Retail $50.00
WineSellar Club Price $44.99
The Lone Madrone wine label was founded in 1996 with the premier goal of producing distinctive wines exclusively from vineyards in the hills of west Paso Robles. Growing steadily since then, the focus has become largely on vineyards that are organic and dry-farmed, which winemaker Neil Collins believes to be “the purest expression of the unparalleled terroir of west Paso.” Neil also feels that when you begin with grapes from vineyards of this quality in these inimitable soils it only makes sense to “let them sing for themselves without being masked by our hand.” To this end, all the wines are fermented with native yeasts and native malolactic bacteria. The intent is to have the wines be unique because of where they were grown.
The wines of Lone Madrone are comprised of extraordinary blends and unique single varietals; all characteristically balanced with structure and finesse.
Pretty cool looking package, even if a bit simplistic. The bottle looks sleek, and gratefully, we have another screwcap closure! The back label graphics seem more indicative of the product I identify with more so than the front label. The wine is black at the core, purple on the edge.
The nose is an absolute exotic pleasure. Dark fruits abound, with lovely notes of roasted/toasted hazelnut and peanuts, which I attribute to the Hungarian oak. Succulent notes of cassis, balsamic, and then a bit of mint at the end.
The wine feels so correct it’s hard to define the weight of it exactly, so I am calling it medium-full. The full Syrah fruit feel is round and soft, being edged by an acid much like that from cranberry juice, providing a long, persistent finish.
Dark fruit of blueberry and ripe plum, with black olive, earth, clay, dried herbs and white pepper. I really love well-made Syrah, and this is it!
I am now enjoying California Syrah that are 10-15 years old, and they are magnificent! I implore you to set aside 3-6-or 12 bottles of the Lone Madrone away for about a decade.
2020 Guidalberto Toscana IGT
Growing Region Bolgheri, Tuscany, Italy
Varietal Composition 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot
Fermentation 15 Months French & American Oak
Alcohol Content 14%
Suggested Retail $60.00
WineSellar Club Price $49.49
Broad Strokes: 94 Points, Raffaele Vecchione
The Tenuta San Guido is a 7,500-acre estate located in the province of Livorno on the western coastal outskirts of Tuscany near the village of Bolgheri. Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta acquired it through his marriage to Clarice della Gherardesca in 1940. Guidalberto’s name comes from Guidalberto della Gherasdesca, Nicolo Incisa della Rochetta great great great grandfather. He lived in the early nineteenth century in Bolgheri and was a pioneer of modern agriculture and is famous for having planted the cypress alley that inspired the poet Giosuè Carducci. Guidalberto is from the producers of the legendary Sassicaia. Fermentation takes place separately for each variety in temperature-controlled steel vats before undergoing maceration. The wine is aged in French and American oak barrels and refined in bottle before release.
I always get excited when I see this bottle. Knowing that it is made by the GREAT Super Tuscan producer Sassicaia gets my wine juices flowing. The wine is deep ruby red color in color, looking clean and brilliant.
Beautiful cherry, wild berry, plum and spice bouquet, with hints of leather and soil. Notes of tobacco, nutmeg and cinnamon, and a strip of leather running through it. A touch of smoke, toasty, like a brioche and vanilla. Brooding . . .
Good freshness and tension, open knit, with a lusciously complex feel in the mouth. Tannins are there but are very fine. The wine is approachable in youth but offers a firm structure and citrusy acid for years of cellar time.
Intense red fruit flavors of dark cherry, raspberries and black currants. Some black pepper. Spices. Soy. Tobacco. Coffee. Wild cherry with bay leaf, black olives, sauteed mushrooms and a bit of licorice.
I couldn’t implore our Gary Parker Club Members in strong enough terms to put some of this in your cellar. A Super-Tuscan gem for a fraction of the price, life is good.
2013 Merry Edwards, Olivet Cuvée, Blanc de Blancs
Growing Region: Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA
Varietal Composition (Cepage): 100% Chardonnay
Vinification (From the winery): Methode Champenoise, aged en tirage for 7 years. Disgorged in November 2021
Alcohol Content: 12.5 %
Suggested Retail: $120
WineSellar Club Price: $107.99
From the Winery:
Merry Edwards was founded in 1997 and produces terroir-driven wines. Merry herself is one of California’s first woman winemakers. She worked as winemaker for multiple brands including Mount Eden, and Matanzas Creek, also consulting before creating her own label. In 2018 Merry named Heidi von der Mehden as her successor (Reserve now and meet Heidi at our Merry Edwards Wine Dinner November 19!) The winery is now a Certified California Sustainable Winery.
This gorgeous sparkling wine comes from the Olivet Lane Vineyard, with 24 acres of it planted to Chardonnay, from the Wente clone. This is highly coveted fruit, and this vineyard is recognized as a prime example of the classic style of Russian River Valley Chardonnay. This sparkling wine is highly allocated.
Pale golden yellow in color
Tantalizing with crusty brioche, pineapple, and caramelized golden apple!
Dancing, delicate bubbles
Notes of white flowers, marzipan, white peach, and toasted brioche.
Lively acidity and a creamy, elegant finish.
This is an absolute treat!
This would be beautiful to begin a fall dinner (or at Thanksgiving! )
and pair it with Wild Mushroom Turnovers from Merry’s family recipe!
Our Two-Rouge wine this month, 2019 Duas Quintas by Ramos Pinto, is from the Douro Valley in Portugal. It has a vintage Port like flavor profile, and the winery is suggesting pairing it with Beef Carpaccio, which sounds lovely to me.
- 1 lb Beef Tenderloin
- 1-2 oz Black or white truffle oil
- 2 oz EVOO
- 2 cups fresh arugula
- Kosher Salt to taste
- Black Pepper to taste
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 3 ounces Parmesan, shaved
Trim the beef tenderloin from fat, gristle, or any tough, non-pure elements.
Wrap in plastic wrap and place in freezer for at least two hours.
Remove beef from freezer, and slice into 1/8” slices.
Place each serving on parchment paper in the shape of a clover with the edges of the rounds slightly overlapping.
Cover the first serving with parchment paper, then flatten the meat with your palm or a rolling pin.
Continue with the other portions.
Remove the bottom parchment paper, and place each of the portions on the serving plate with the parchment paper still covering the meat on top.
Place in the refrigerator until time to serve.
In a bowl, dress the arugula with the lemon juice, EVOO, salt and pepper.
Remove the parchment layers from the top of each serving carefully.
Scatter arugula over the meat.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Drizzle truffle oil over each portion.