Fred Franzia, the Napa Valley kingpin perhaps best known for creating the seemingly inflation-proof bargain wine known as Two Buck Chuck, died September 13 at age 79, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday. Franzia co-founded Bronco Wine Co., now one of the largest wine companies in the country, in 1973 with his brother and cousin. An announcement on the company’s website says the wine industry icon died at his home in Stanislaus County “with his family by his side.”
Franzia was famously vocal in his criticism of wines he perceived as being too expensive, regularly claiming no bottle should cost more than $10. The Bronco Wine Co. website, for example, cites one instance when Franzia was asked how his company affords to sell wine cheaper than bottled water: “They’re overcharging for the water — don’t you get it?” Franzia shot back. And though Bronco Wine Co. owns more than 100 wine labels including Claire de Lune, Estrella, and Red Truck, it’s certainly most widely associated with the Charles Shaw brand — as in the less-than-five-dollars per bottle (but not always $2) wine that’s pretty much always in stock at Trader Joe’s.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Franzia’s dedication to the idea that all wine should be so incredibly affordable didn’t always win him fans in the tony wine country community. The San Francisco Chronicle points out he made “plenty of enemies” by pushing for looser regulations around wine labeling, a battle which he ultimately lost. Franzia also became the center of some controversy in 1994, when he pled guilty to fraud “after falsifying the grape varieties on his wine labels.” The scheme involved trying to pass off some 1 million gallons of wine made from an amalgam of less expensive grapes as being made from 100 percent zinfandel. (The price of the grape varietal had reached more than $1,000 per ton in 1988, the Chronicle found at the time.)
According to the Bronco Wine Co. website, Franzia is survived by his “five children Renata, Roma, Joseph (‘Joey’), Carlo, and Giovanna; fourteen grandchildren (soon to be fifteen); his brother, Joseph S.; and his sisters, Joellen and Catherine.” The family plans to organize a private Celebration of Life ceremony and welcomes contributions to organizations including Santa Clara JesuitProjects Endowment Fund 61096, Sutter Health Medical Foundation, and Modesto Parent Resource Center in Franzia’s honor.