Fred Franzia and American wine under $10

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Fred Franzia, creator of Two Buck Chuck and founder of Bronco Wine Co, has a somewhat laudable if self-serving goal: no wine should sell for over ten dollars a bottle. While tasty wine under $10 is something wine consumers could rally behind even in the best of times, the recession certainly makes value have greater appeal now. The only trouble with Franzia’s wine is the that they just aren’t that tasty.

The current issue of the New Yorker has a lengthy profile of Franzia that is well worth reading, especially if you’re not familiar with his story. Here’s how the author describes his winery in Ceres, California:

It also irritates Franzia when people describe Bronco’s facility, with its four hundred and fifty-two stainless-steel storage tanks–including six liquid oxygen tanks that once held fuel for intercontinental ballistic missiles and are now being used to make champagne [sic]–as being reminiscent of an oil refinery.

(In addition to the satellite image above, click here for a street view of the flags. Franzia had this to say about the flags in the story: “No California flag–they’ve screwed us too many times. We shouldn’t fly the US flag, the bastards. They have a felony on us.”)

One of the biggest puzzles about the American wine market is why there are so few tasty values made in the USA. Imports, somewhat paradoxically, offer better value despite traveling a farther distance and often having to pass through another tier, the American importer.

What do you think are the key reasons that American wines under $10 are so often uninspiring? (Granted, there certainly are uninspiring imports under $10 but there are also some rustic wonders that sell for three to six euros in Europe.) Here are some variables to toy with: short-ish history of American wine with relatively few small growers, recent industry consolidation, the soil and/or climate, high land prices, producer greed/pride, the three tier distribution system, or the consumer as chump.

Swirl. Spit. Discuss. And while you’re at it, let us know your favorite American wines under $10–or even cast the net wider to include wines under $15 if under $10 is too hard. Maybe in a future post we’ll do a low-cost throwdown, domestic versus imports.

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50 Responses to “Fred Franzia and American wine under $10”


  1. The key issues for the sea of uninteresting U.S. wines under $10 are these:

    More than 90% of such wines are produced by just 8 companies – they are all chasing the same 5 distributors for shelf space.

    The costs of growing grapes and making wine in California are just SO much greater than anywhere else. Consider also that most of the big 8 producers are publicly traded companies with ROI issues.

    There are a few interesting wines under $10 made in the U.S. but they are made mostly by very small wineries in small quantities and are not in wide distribution.


  2. I think the Estancia Cabernet is a great wine and the shop I buy it at sells it for under $10. Otherwise, most of the wine I buy that’s under $10 is from Spain, South Africa and France.


  3. I’ve said it before (here even) and I’ll say it again: 2 Buck (Up) Chuck is unforgiveably TERRIBLE…
    Land costs & wages are reasons why so few good domestic wine values.
    I will, however, offer one. Should others come to mind, I’ll post later.

    Bogle Petit Sirah.

    Cheers

    alberto


  4. Two Buck Chuck isn’t that bad (depends on the variety/batch)–it’s certainly a hell of a lot better than the Boone’s Farm I drank in high school/college!

    I was going to name the 2007 Ventana Riesling as a great U.S. wine for under $15, but the SRP is $18. Doh.


  5. A couple more reasons why we can’t put up the same quality as, say, the Languedoc in an $8 bottle – no government subsidies for wine grape growers; a total lack of terroir in the big Central Valley vineyards; and most of all, the numerous cheap and cheerful winemaking tricks (special yeasts, additives, oak flavorings, etc.) that turn cheap wines into alcoholic soda pop.


  6. We also usually look across the pond for our $10 wines but, there are a few small local producers nearby that bottle something drinkable for around $15. These may not be the most inspiring wines but, at least you can feel inspired by drinking local. ;)

    The value proposition on imports also depends on where in the U.S. you live. On the east coast we get a lot of decent French wine for under $10 but the same wines go for 30-70% more in California.

    I guess the best domestic under $10 ($7.29) I’ve had recently was a Santa Barbara Chardonnay: Prosperity 2007. Actually, it’s the only domestic under-$10 wine I’ve had recently… Still, it wasn’t your typical flabby over-oaked CA chard. http://tinyurl.com/o8d33t


  7. American wine is like American cars. You don’t necessarily get what you’ve paid for, but at least the workers do. Pretty much all of my under $10 go-to values are outside the U.S., but as a general rule I think Washington produces some great value wines under $15, many of which I consistently drink and recommend to others.


  8. I don’t think labor costs can really be the issue–aren’t labor costs higher in Europe, particularly in places like France, than they are here? Somehow the French seem to manage.


  9. For under $15 I like the Hayman & Hill Wines (especially the white blend Interchange), and Steele has a great line of odd-ball wines like lemberger and aligote that are pretty tasty.
    Under $10 is harder- I almost always recommend something by Gallo- Gallo Sonoma being my favorite, but I sell a lot of Barefoot too.

    In my opinion it’s harder to find good, cheap American wines because there are plenty of customers who only buy American, and therefore people can get away with charging more!

    With regards to Two Buck Chuck- its real problem is that it falls apart so quickly. The first sip is fine, but unless you were chugging the bottle like an underage frat boy, it’s pretty unpalatable before you finish the first glass. Maybe that’s why it wins so many awards in blind-tastings where tasters are only drinking it one sip at a time.


  10. Not to be redundant, but I can’t think of one @$10 American wine. I will second alberto’s recommendation (above) of the Bogle petite syrah, but it’s been years since I’ve bought that one. My money still goes to southern french wines. The Red Byclette Syrah for @$9 is pretty good, but I think that still comes from france. Another fave is Gato Negro cabernet. But that’s Chile…….


  11. I work for a fairly large distributor in the Northeast, so I do have a good grasp of what’s in the market place. I think it is simply that imports are by necessity pre-screened by suppliers already, so we in the US, will not see a lot of bad wines, let’s say, from the Eurozone. This is actually an economic phenomenon called ‘shipping the good apples out’. Given a transaction (shipping) cost, why would importers bring in a wine of lesser quality than the good ones. Unlike, domestically, where sub $10 wines are made mostly by industrial wineries who rely on their own distribution network rather than rely on suppliers-gatekeepers.


  12. The Red Bicyclette mentioned above is, I believe, a Gallo product.


  13. I’m with Patrick, above. If you’re gonna ship wine across the ocean, most people would prefer to ship the better stuff, even if it’s the better $10 bottles! Additionally, it’s hard to compare US wineries with foreign ones, given that we have much more overhead, in terms of labor costs (low cost of living = cheap wine), required insurance, land use costs, etc. Not to mention, sometimes we *don’t* get killed by the exchange rate (although, sometimes we do… 2005 Bordeauxes hurt to buy when we were getting $1 for every 1.6 Euro…).

    As for good US wines under $10, I’ll throw my hat in the ring with Cupcake Chardonnay 2007 was rather good, and it retails for $10 in my local wine market.


  14. I think there is a lot of inaccurate information flowing on the response boards. I disagree with the overhead argument, especially in terms of labor. Additionally, the subsidy argument may initially seem to offer the answer; however, it is difficult to believe that the 1.5 billion Euros directed towards wine throughout the entire European Union is greater, on a per-bottle basis, than shipping, tariffs(although the US does have a small tariff for wine), and the cut that the importer will take. Most of that money goes towards distillation and not export subsidies, as export subsidies will disappear from the CAP in 2013. I do not believe that the US will be able to compete in the under-ten-dollar range in 2013 when export subsidies are eliminated.


  15. Try Laurel Glen REDS, made by one of the great US winemakers, Patrick Campbell! This is a wine drinkers under $10 wine, not made for the American Lemming Mass! Otherwise you must go to Spain, Argentina, France, Chile or South Africa!


  16. I worked for Bronco for 2 months… sat by their side for 2 months. Had dinner with them. Spent some time in Ceres… To be honest… they run a machine. Their business is so brilliant. They bought Charles Shaw decades ago, for only like $80,000, until they could ramp up production (lots of cases) to do what they did…the timing was amazing… they capatalized on America’s fear. It’s a supreme business model. I sat next to Joe in Napa (the city) and he told me exactly how they were doing it… the whole story about wine openers was created by the media, not them. The wine itself…it’s fine…subpar…but whatever…acceptable.

    Bronco is a smart company… in the same vein that IBM, Microsoft, and Enron sort of was. They banked on things that were beyond their control…they banked on us being mediocre…which most,professionally, are.

    Joe and Fred own thousands of acres of land in Cali… like it or not… they are here to stay.


  17. Edmunds is right…a Gallo animal. Look, I’ve drank deep into everything… Bubbles, Burgs, Bord to the 20′s and all cults… the Franzia stuff is valid. frat boy or not… it cooks and drinks. does it suck compared to 86 mouton or 90′s hill of grace? yes… but it doesnt need to be written off by all of america.


  18. I believe it’s just as you said, “there are those rustic wonders.” When you reach the production scale that allows costs to reach below $10 for these wines, I have to imagine there’s a sacrifice in quality with the increase in size. I’m sure if there were truly small vineyard owners with the only desire of selling their bottles within their quaint town, then yes, not only would the wine be reasonably priced, but it would have dedicated quality control.


  19. The last time I walked through Trader Joe’s they had a pretty large selection of US wine under $10 and a surprisingly large selection under $5. Alas, I have not tasted many of the under $5.00 bottles but am taking it as a challenge to check them out to see how they stack up…


  20. The thing that puzzles me most about the New Yorker article is how Fred Franzia’s physique is described as like a gourmet marshmallow. That’s probably the only time he’s been described as gourmet anything. Also, what is the shape of a gourmet marshmallow?


  21. To the point of SJC. Until the american wine consumer stops buying shitty mediocre wine people like franzia, gallo, constellation, etc will always have a market to do business. These wine companies need to be shut down. There is so much swill in the market it really is sad! Making wine to satisfy the tastes of a completley immature wine drinking nation is wine culture suicide. It is the “spare the rod spoil the child” concept. Now the american palate is hooked on overripe,oaky, flaby wines that is 100% the fault of these brands owned by these publically traded companies. All the $10 and under wines all suck!! They don’t have to be but they are. I tried bogle merlot the other day and it was so oaky I spit is out. It was aweful!! Competition is usually a good thing but in the american wine business it does more harm than good. Until there is a very strict appellation system the hope of america becoming culturaly wine oriented will never see the light of day.


  22. I disagree with Kevin’s analysis and the stereotype it perpetrates.

    Europeans are NOT sophisticated wine drinkers. The average European does not go to a sophisticated gourmet store and debate the finer points of a series of appellations. The average European goes to the grocery store and buys a 2 or 3 euro crappy wine (from Italy, Spain, etc), even when a fantastic local producer is available for 8 or 10 euros.

    Yes, you can absolutely buy great 8 euro wines in Europe whereas $10 Californian wines are cruddy. But that is a different issue.


  23. Responding to stereotypes…”Europeans are NOT sophisticated wine drinkers.” This statement is not only absurd but also much more blatantly stereotypical than saying Europeans are sophisticated. There are certainly sophisticated European and American wine drinkers. The assertion that Europeans go to a grocery store and buy a 2 or 3 dollar “crappy” wine is ridiculous. There are certainly bargain hunters in Europe and America. The difference is that a 3 Euro bottle can be drinkable and basically any American wine under 10 dollars is mass-produced plonk.


  24. Lars, my point was not to rip on Europeans, but to point out that the vast majority of people ANYWHERE are not “wine geeks.” They drink cheap wine that they think is passable because they want to warm up a little, have some social lubricant, and have something with their dinner. There is a self-deprecating conceit in America to assume that all Europeans are walking encyclopedias of gourmet knowledge.

    From my experience living in Europe, viewing European grocery stores and going to the best wine stores in an array of European cities, European wine geeks are about as scarce on the ground as American wine geeks. Try finding a good German wine in Spain (or discussing them), or finding a good Spanish wine in Germany and so on. The best wine store in Rome (Constantini) has a far narrower wine selection than the best wine stores in LA, SF, NYC or DC. The same goes for Vienna (Meinl, Wein&Co), Cologne, Madrid, Barcelona, etc… let alone the medium-sized and small-cities where the majority of people live.

    The vast majority of Europeans buy their wine at grocery stores, just like the vast majority of Americans. And those Europeans are not buying secret, special grower-made wines that they know through their sophistication, they are buying stuff made by co-ops, or stuff like Mouton Cadet. Just like Americans are buying “mass-produced plonk.”


  25. Kevin does have a point about bad cheap American wine fouling the American market. But the problem is more with turning people off than wrecking their palates. For every person that likes the cheap stuff, there are several people who try it and come to the conclusion that they don’t like wine.

    The reality is that the very low end, the US does resemble Europe. Trader Joes is owned by Aldi, the German Walmart. The food and wine they stock on the whole are industrial products – the idea that Trader Joes is a gourmet specialty food shop is marketing genius. For evidence otherwise, check out their plastic cheese department.


  26. There are many US areas outside of California that make good wine under $10. Washington for example, Pine & Post, 14 Hands, Snoqualmie, Chat St Michelle, Columbia, and Columbia Crest, just to name a few. And I agree with Kim on TBC- first few sips are palatable, then as you pay more attention it has a nasty chemically finish. Too much good value wine from all over the world, without the sugar-added headache!


  27. Spent a year with my family in Joinville, outside Paris, and bought my wine in the local grocery store; the Cahors was 12 francs, the Cote-de-Rhone was 18 (the dollar then was 7 francs). The hypermarché in a nearby town had similar bargains. I didn’t bother with the local wine store (a branch of Nicolas)–nothing interesting there.

    Under ten bucks, from my local NYC wine store, I recommend:
    Chateau St. Michelle Blanc de Noir
    Mirassou Pinot Noir
    Trinchero Sauvignon Blanc
    Niebaum-Coppola Rosso
    Cosentino Meritage “Novelist”


  28. We enjoy McManis Family Vineyards Cabernet right at $10.


  29. Dry Creek Chenin Blanc and Fume’ [Sauvignon] blanc are good values and can occasionally be found at the $10 price point. Always under $15. Firesteed Pinot Noir, although that’s gotten pricier lately.


  30. L. Mawby of northern Michigan makes some great sparkling wines that are on par price/quality wise with many non-Champagne European producers, including his $10 sandpiper: see http://www.lmawby.com His higher priced stuff is also good value.


  31. There are some solid US bargains in the $12-15 range. I’m a big fan of Washington’s Forest Grove Cellars — the Syrah in particular is delightful. I’ve also been generally happy with Smoking Loon and Pepperwood Grove wines, both for under $10. But the Bronco Wine Company wines I’ve had were universally flat and uninteresting. Great for cooking but not for much else, not when I can uncork a spicy $9 Malbec.

    I suspect the reason we have trouble naming great US wines for under $10 is a combination of what kim and Patrick suggested — it’s not worth shipping the truly bad stuff abroad from Europe or South America, and US consumers are most comfortable with California Chardonnays and Merlots and will often pay more for them.


  32. To address the article’s questions, a bottle that’s 10 dollars or less is probably going to suck because of three reasons.

    One, the vintner is catering to the mass crowd, and the mass crowd generally wants sweeter (so-called “less complex”) stuff.

    Two, economies of scale dictate that the vintner is going to mix it. Wine like two-buck chuck comes from more than one vineyard. To ensure consistency the vintner finagles the yeasts, chemicals, etc., so the cheap bottle should not and does not have any individuality (in terms of vineyard, year, etc.).

    Three, perhaps most importantly, really cheap wine is utilitarian stuff–people don’t drink it for the taste, they drink it to get drunk or buzzed. Take beer for example: no one buys Milwaukee’s Best for the taste. Cheap wine (esp box) is price-per-gallon comparable to soda pop. $10-a-bottle wine is up from this model, but it’s still close enough to the bottom to be affected by this dynamic I think. Taste is a secondary concern.

    Less I come off like a snob, I’ll say that I’ve found pretty good cheap wine. But it’s always small, foreign, independent labels, never American. The reason it’s always foreign wine is b/c a US vintner who made good stuff could sell it for more than $15 a bottle.


  33. the Hahn Family produces some good quality wines in the $7-12 range… try the Hahn label or the Cycles Gladiator… as has also been mentioned there are some small and large wineries in Washington state also producing good wines. I would agree with Aaron , but I would also agree that in 20 years of buying alot of $7-10 wines that the quality discoveries at this level have gotten less and less in the past 5 years… I dont think this is due to inflation either, I think it is due to the production of alot of wines in the same style, fruit forward, ready to go… as the newer wine drinkers drink more they gravitate toward this type of wine so the market makes more of it.
    I also think that the types of people that read this blog will be continually wanting to pique their tastebuds and look for new things… i have been particularly pleased with Argentina, South Africa and Sicily , really nice quality wines in the $7-10 range.


  34. I’ve had the House Wine (Red) from the Magnificent Wine Company (K Vintners) in WA, fantastic for as low as 9.99 a bottle.


  35. [...] 30 of you had your say in the post from last week. So I decided to put the question to several people in the trade. Today, we hear from Patrick [...]


  36. [...] The New Yorker’s recent profile of Fred Franzia has sparked a debate amongst the wine pundits on the question of why it’s so hard to find good American wines under $10, under $12, or even $20. I had an interesting conversation on this topic with Tyler Colman the other day. There’s a debate on the topic on Tyler’s blog, Dr. Vino, where he asks his readers to weigh in on these potential theories: [...]


  37. [...] Tasty American wine under $12: why so little of it? Industry replies, part I Fred Franzia and American wine under $10 Permalink | SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “Why so few tasty American wines under $12? Wine importer [...]


  38. [...] when I stumbled upon a wine blog called Dr. Vino, and one of the first posts I saw was about the relative scarcity of decent American wines under $10-12, I welcomed some new [...]


  39. My choices for red and white $10 wines:
    Lynfred Winery, Roselle, IL: Fred’s Red/Fred’s White
    __________

    Per why so little is any good? I think it’s all about the marketing. Who out there in NapaNomaCino wants to be known for their ability to make a good $9-10 chardonnay? That’s nothing to crow about.

    Just ask Gallo.

    They make really nice wines under $10 but they can’t get a restaurant to put it on the wine list because the restaurant wants/needs to charge $20 for it, and the diners know what that Gallo wine costs in the wine shops — less than $10.
    ____________

    My choice for best under $10 wines — Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay, Bin 50 Shiraz. Sometimes at $4.99 in the local Chicago Binny’s, even at Jewel for $6.99 at times! Good wines.


  40. re: Steve
    “Also, what is the shape of a gourmet marshmallow?”

    Think mis-shapen, overflowing the edges, with a belted crimp in the central part. On the order of a softened hour glass with about 5 hours of sand in it.


  41. Kevin,
    Gallo and Bronco are not public traded companies, both are family owed


  42. ‘Lest we all be accused of geographic chauvenism, when in Europe and when asked where I am from, I reply “America”. 9 times out of 10, the question comes back “North or South?” Apparently, America is much bigger than we may think, at least to much of Europe. So, I propose that you can get very good “American” wines for under $10, they just happen to be from Argentina and Chile.


  43. In terms of under $10.00 U.S. wines, I’m fond of Meridan Cabernet Sauvignon, usually under 6.00 in my local Rite Aid; it was regularly on restaurant menus in California for $20.00. Their Chardonnay is a typical Chardonnay from California.

    But I have to say, I’m loving Washington wines. Columbia Crest, even the “budge” Two Vines wines are marvelous, and easily under 10.00 in Washington. Hogue, and Chateua Ste. Michelle as well are in the under !0.00 category.


  44. [...] Fred Franzia: The California-based creator of Two Buck Chuck, which debuted in 2002, believes that no wine should sell for more than $10 a bottle. Paul Giamatti: played role of Miles in Sideways (2004); crushed the fortunes of Merlot with a [...]


  45. [...] Frez Francia: propietario de la bodega californiana Bronco Wine Company, siendo sobrino del legendario Ernerst Gallo, indica que ningún vino debiera valer más de 10$. Supongo que lo dirá debido a que se dedica a elaborar grandes volúmenes de vinos baratos. Solamente decir un par de datos: son propietarios de 14.000 hectáreas y pueden llegar a elaborar 230 millones de litros, haciendo números redondos tienen un rendimiento por hectárea de 22.000 kg/ha. A su vez es el creador de la marca “Two Buck Chuck”. [...]


  46. [...] make wines under $20. We discussed the lack of California values last year in relation to Fred Franzia, and heard from wine importer Bobby Kacher and winemaker Patrick [...]


  47. I love reading these responses. Everyone is so literate. Everyone can spell. Everyone seems to have double-digit IQ points or better. This is a rare cyberboard indeed.


  48. Franzia wine is doing well here in my country primarily because of the price. Well, the taste is not really that great but this is better than nothing at all. Besides, I think they are still healthy.


  49. I am living in Barcelona and can’t believe the decent wines (as in not great but very drinkable table wine) that can be found at the local supermarket for 1 to 2 euros! When i lived in the US the best i could find in terms of an acceptable table wine for everyday drinking at dinner or lunch under $10 was something like the syrah from rosemount. I have tried the Gallo wine’s and frankly dont even recognized them as wine! I must have tried at least 30 different reds under 3 euros since I have been here, most under 2 euros, and have only had one that was unpalatable (but still better than something like Gallo’s reds). I thought that perhaps taxes had something to do with the price disparity but it seems that at least for MA tax only accounts for about $0.33 of the bottle price. When i get back to the US I think I might try my hand at making some decent wine for local sale.


  50. Oando PLC is one of Africa’s largest integrated energy solutions providers with a proud heritage. It has a primary listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and a secondary listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.With shared values of Teamwork, Respe…

    [...]Fred Franzia and American wine under $10 | Dr Vino's wine blog[...]…


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