Two Buck Chuck, a wine made in Stanislaus County that took the industry by storm, now costs half a buck more.
The wine, formally known as Charles Shaw, has risen to $2.49 at Trader Joe's stores in California. The chain launched it in 2002 at $1.99, and it stayed there until last month.
The product, made south of Ceres by Bronco Wine Co., created a sensation from the start: Who would have thought that decent-tasting, single-varietal wines, sealed with corks, could sell for so little?
About 700 million of the 750-milliliter bottles have sold over those 11 years, Bronco spokesman Harvey Posert told me this week.
"I've never seen a phenomenon like this," said Posert, who has worked in the industry since 1965. "It changed wine in America."
Posert cited increased grape and bulk wine prices, resulting from reduced harvests in 2010 and '11, for the retail hike.
Charles Shaw has been selling for more than $2 in other states because of distribution and other costs. Now the price has risen at the Dale Road store in Modesto and other California locations.
"In general, our retail prices change only when our costs change," said Alison Mochizuki, director of public relations at Trader Joe's, in an email. "In the case of Shaw in California, 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."
An early admirer came up with the Two Buck Chuck moniker. Bronco and Trader Joe's always referred to the wine as Charles Shaw, the name of a former Napa Valley brand.
Bronco followed Two Buck Chuck with similarly priced wines for other grocers. They, too, have risen in price. Fox Brook sold for $2.48 at Save Mart this week. Crane Lake was $3 at O'Brien's Markets.
The $2 wines created their own category: extreme value. They cost less per milliliter than some of the jug wines that supposedly were the low end of the market.
Extreme-value wines emerged in part from a surplus of grapes, which kept the price per ton low. This was especially true for the San Joaquin Valley crop, always priced well below Napa and other premium regions.
Combine low grape prices with high efficiency at Modesto-area wineries, and you could turn out a $2 bottle at a profit.
"I think it's control through the entire process, which means you own the grapes, you own the facility that makes it and you have a good relationship with suppliers for your materials," Bronco winemaker Bob Stashak told me in 2007.
The occasion was the fifth-anniversary celebration for the brand, held at the Napa plant where Bronco bottles the wine after it is made at the winery off Keyes Road.
Bronco's president is Fred Franzia, a nephew by marriage of the late Ernest Gallo. He is not involved in the Franzia Winery near Ripon, founded by his grandparents and now owned by The Wine Group.
Some wine fans looked down on Two Buck Chuck, refusing to believe cheap could be good. The judges at the 2007 California State Fair thought differently. They gave the top prize for chardonnays to Charles Shaw, which beat about 350 other entries from the state's commercial wineries.
Posert said Bronco will continue to provide quality, affordable products to a nation that is coming to see wine as an every-night drink, as Europeans do.
And the $2.49 price is less than the original if you factor in the general inflation rate of 27.6 percent since 2002. Based on that, something costing $1.99 back then should be $2.54 now.
"People recognize it's a bargain, always has been, and the wines are better each year," Posert said.
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