The real reasons Trader Joe’s wine is so cheap

Charles Shaw wine
Male via Wikimedia Commons

Trader Joe’s wine is remarkably cheap.

A bottle of the grocery store’s most popular wine brand, Charles
Shaw, sells for less than $3. 

Also known as
“Two-Buck Chuck,” Charles Shaw
wine comes in multiple

red and white varieties, including

abernet Sauvignon,
Chardonnay and Merlot.

The wine’s low price has attracted some criticism. Critics have
called it
 and “sugar
.” A wine shop owner
once publicly accused the company
that makes Charles Shaw
wine, called Bronco Wine, of failing to remove dead
birds, leaves, insects,
and rodents from its grape harvests. 
Bronco Wine has denied the

Despite the criticism, the wine is wildly popular. It’s one of
the best-selling products ever sold at Trader Joe’s, exceeding
800 million bottles since the wine debuted at $1.99 in 2002,
according to CNBC.

So how does the company keep its prices so low, while still
delivering a taste that people love? And is there really animal
matter in the wine?

Here’s what we found.

1. Bronco Wine has cheap
real-estate costs.

Most of the company’s vineyards
are located in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where the cost of
land is much cheaper than the more prestigious Sonoma or Napa
Valley, according to George M. Taber, author of the book

Toast to Bargain Wines: How Innovators, Iconoclasts, and
Winemaking Revolutionaries Are Changing the Way the World


Higher average temperatures in San Joaquin Valley can over-ripen
grapes, which is a main contributor to the price difference
between the regions.

Bronco Wine
Bronco Wine posted this to
Facebook with the caption, “New plantings as far as the eye can


“The main issue facing wineries
in the Central Valley,” Taber writes of the region in which the
San Joaquin Valley is located, “is heat. 

Grapes grow abundantly, and harvests can be
huge. The flip side, though, is that too much heat reduces

2. The company ferments wine with oak chips, which are
cheaper than barrels, according to Taber, who interviewed Bronco
Wine owner Fred Franzia for his book. 

Most fine wine is fermented in oak barrels. “Oak improves the
taste of wine, but also the price tag,” Taber writes. “Bronco
continues aging wines in oak, but uses less expensive forms of
it, for example chips rather than barrels. American oak is also
less expensive than French.”

3. The company uses “one of
the cheapest forms of natural cork,” according to a 2012 report
by KALW Public

It’s a mold of cork pieces glued together with a “real cork
veneer at the bottom,” the report says. 

Charles Shaw

Bronco could cut even more
costs by using a plastic cork, which is what most wines under $10

Franzia believed a plastic cork would affect the taste of the
wine and potentially cheapen customers’ perception of Charles
Shaw, so he used low-cost natural cork products instead. 

4. Making wine in huge quantities keeps production costs

Bronco makes an impressive 90 million gallons of wine a year,
according to Taber.

“Little wineries need to get
high prices in order to be able to make wine in small quantities”
Ed Moody, Bronco’s chief winemaker for more than 20 years, told
Taber. “You make better wine in a 700,000-gallon tank than you
can in a 700-gallon one because there is less exposure to air,
and oxygen is the enemy in winemaking.” 

The company uses machines to
harvest the grapes, which helps keep labor costs low, but also
increases the chances that bad grapes end up in the wine,
according to Keith Wallace, executive director of the Wine School
of Philadelphia.

“Everything is automated,”
Wallace told Business Insider. Mass-produced wine typically has
higher amounts of residual sugar and added grape concentrate to
mask the taste of inferior grapes, he said.

Critics argue that mass production is also
how animal matter can end up in your wine glass.

But to be fair, there’s a
chance of that happening with most agricultural

“If you worry about things like that, you shouldn’t eat anything;
you shouldn’t drink anything,” Bronco owner Franzia told CNBC. “When the wine’s
fermenting, they’re going to eliminate anything that’s possibly

Here’s one of the company’s winemaking facilities.

Bronco Wine

5. Bronco cuts shipping
costs by using lightweight bottles and cheap

Bronco was a
 “pioneer” in using lightweight
bottles, according to the KALW report.

The lighter glass reduces the
weight of a case of wine by several pounds, meaning Bronco can
ship more wine at a time. 

Bronco also lowered the cost of
its shipping cartons by a few pennies by replacing the white
paper it was using with a light brown paper, Taber

Here’s how the cartons
looked before the change.

Charles Shaw