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Two Billion Buck Chuck

Quick - where were you when you first heard about Two Buck Chuck? It had that kind of an impact. A "premium" wine available for chump change.

Hard to believe, but that was fifteen years ago. And even harder to believe that in that decade and a half, Trader Joe's has sold almost a billion bottles. Yes, with a "b."

Charles Shaw wine was an instant sensation. Almost everyone had an opinion. Many scoffed. But many more rushed to buy it, often by the case. To some in the winemaking biz, it was a sign of the apocalypse. Their world was coming to an end - Charles Shaw was the mass produced automobile that was going to replace their horse and buggy, making them obsolete and irrelevant.

Well, we all know that didn't happen. Two Buck Chuck became shorthand for "a not-pricey bottle of wine you actually want to drink." But it also became known as "the wine you'd never present to a dinner host." It even found a place in my own wine collection. I often uncorked it as the "second bottle," after finishing a more palate pleasing, albeit more expensive, intro wine. Charles Shaw's first vintage was remarkably good, in my opinion, and although later years declined noticeably, it remained drinkable.

And that's where Chuck ended up. Not as the catalyst for a cultural shift and the harbinger announcing the demise of premium wine, but rather as an OK, in the right situation, kind of thing. The right situation being "I want some wine, I don't want to empty my wallet, and no one's looking right now."

Trader Joe's still sells plenty of Two Buck Chuck, though now a 750 ml bottle sells for $2.99, so really it's three buck chuck, but I don't think the moniker will change no matter what the price becomes. Seems like when I first saw it, there were three varietals: Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, the label includes Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and White Zinfandel.

The brand that taught me that wine doesn't have to be expensive to be enjoyable may not be in my cellar any more, but it has secured an important place in the history of wine culture.

 

~ Kay Syrah

Wine Country Guru Gal

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