'Two Buck Chuck' Wine Cult

Amy Kelly reaches for bottles of Charles Shaw wine, being sold at $1.99 a bottle at Trader Joes, Dec. 27, 2002, in Sacramento, Calif. The latest buzz in California wine circles is over two-buck Chuck, the little wine priced at $1.99 that could herald a new era for the once high-flying industry. AP

It's the California wine with the cult following.

"Charles Shaw is known in local circles as "Two Buck Chuck," said shopper Mercy Malick.

Humble Two Buck Chuck. The $1.99 nectar of the gods that is sinfully cheap and good.

"Better than the box wines we drank in college for the same prices," another shopper told CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen.

A full year after flooding the market largely on the west coast, it's still being sold by the case to wine lovers who can't get enough.

"How long can it last? A buck 99 you know? Every time I'm here I go, 'Thank God!' it's here," said another shopper.

Even the New York Times wine critic sees it as a sort of blessing.

"It's okay. It certainly rates as well as any other $2 bottles of wine. Of which there are almost none," said wine critic Frank Prial.

And now, between toasts, "Two Buck Chuck" has become the stuff of urban legend, including the story that an airline that had gone out of business by over-purchasing the wine for its first class passengers.

There's also the story that Charles Shaw is a bighearted billionaire who wanted to expose the proletariat to the finer things in life.

Actually, it's an over-abundance of grapes that's made Charles Shaw cheap to bottle -- an estimated 5 million cases so far. It's easily outselling more famous brands like Mondavi and Gallo in California.

And Charles Shaw?

It's a wine label owned by Fred Franzia, a distant relative on the Gallo family vine. He's a reclusive businessman considered a pain in the neck to California's wine establishment.

Franzia controls scores of brands and labels including Charles Shaw that under-sell the prestige vineyards. And "Two Buck Chuck" is just his latest broadside: "We have others up our sleeve we think are even better coming out."

He also controls more than 30 square miles of California vineyards. And he thinks big. Next he plans to take on invading Australian wine makers.

"We're going to take 'em on. Slap 'em around as hard as we can!" he said.

In the meantime he's trying to make one of those urban legends a reality. Remember the one about the billionaire?

"Interesting legend. We don't have any billionaires around here -- yet," Franzia said with a smile.

But he's getting there. Two bucks at a time.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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