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Price hiked for 'Two-Buck Chuck'

A worker stacks cases of Charles Shaw wine at the Bronco Wine Company facility in Napa in this 2007 file photo.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 6:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 7:57 a.m.

It's the end of an era for "Two-Buck Chuck," the wine that earned a nickname and notoriety for its surprisingly low price.

For the past decade, shoppers at Trader Joe's stores in California have paid just $1.99 for a bottle of Charles Shaw shiraz or cabernet sauvignon. But the new price, $2.49, takes a little longer to roll off the tongue.

So what will the shoppers, who came up with the moniker "Two-Buck Chuck," call it now?

"Inflation Chuck," said Matt Tucker, 28, a cook from Santa Rosa.

"Upchuck," said Lisa Garrett, 50, of Stewarts Point, saying her suggestion reflects the price increase, not the wine's drinkability.

The Charles Shaw brand was able to maintain such low prices for so long in part because its parent company, Bronco Wine Co., owns 45,000 acres of vineyard land, said Harvey Posert, spokesman for Bronco. That helps the company ride out wild fluctuations in grape prices like those the industry has seen in recent years.

"If there's one grape too many, the price dips," Posert said. "If there's one grape too few, the price zips up. In the sense of being the largest grape grower, Bronco can ride many of these ups and downs.

"But there were bad crops in 2010 and 2011, and that certainly impacted the industry," he said.

Even so, the retail price is set by Trader Joe's, Posert said. A display case in the store's wine aisle labels Charles Shaw as Trader Joe's best-selling wine. The brand sold about 5 million cases last year, Posert said.

"In general, our retail prices change only when our costs change," Alison Mochizuki, director of public relations for Trader Joe's, said in an email. "We've held a $1.99 retail price for 11 years. Quite a bit has happened during those years and the move to $2.49 allows us to offer the same quality that has made the wine famous the world over."

Most shoppers outside a Trader Joe's store in Santa Rosa said the wine is still a good value at $2.49.

"My friends all like it," said Virginia Schrock, 86, of Santa Rosa. "Nobody sticks up their nose if you serve 'Two-Buck Chuck.' "

On the other hand, many shoppers in Wine Country have steered clear of a brand that's still too cheap for their tastes.

"You can't really take it to a party where people know wine," said Barbara Levinson, 63, of Santa Rosa. "I have a lot of friends in the wine business, so they're kind of particular. Snobby."

Most customers have taken the price increase in stride, a clerk said, except for one unhappy buyer who pointed out that Whole Foods still offers its "Three Wishes Wines" brand for $1.99 a bottle.

One shopper thought the higher-priced wine could simply be called "Chuck," while others said it's still close enough to $2 to keep its nickname.

Or the wine brand could cash in on the recent San Francisco 49ers victory, with "49 Just in Time" or "Two Champions," Garrett said.

Even though the wine long has cost more in other states -- it's known as "Three-Buck Chuck" in some East Coast markets where it sells for $2.99 a bottle -- for some California customers, paying more than $2 for Charles Shaw wine will never feel right.

"It's blasphemy," Tucker said, with a trace of irony. "People should maybe protest or boycott."

You can reach Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz at 521-5276 or cathy.bussewitz@pressdemocrat.com.

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