Trader Joe's has sold nearly a billion bottles of '2-buck Chuck' wine, but the actual Charles Shaw has never earned a dime from its success

Arabella BreckCharles Shaw, the man behind Trader Joe’s ‘two-buck Chuck,’ never saw a dime from his namesake wine.

  • Trader Joe’s “two-buck Chuck,” its famously cheap private-label wine, has a complicated backstory.
  • There is a real Charles Shaw, and he once sold wine at Trader Joe’s, but he is not associated with the Charles Shaw-branded wine sold at the retailer today.
  • Trader Joe’s has sold nearly a billion bottles of Charles Shaw wine, but Shaw himself hasn’t seen a penny of the two-buck Chuck fortune.
  • In Business Insider’s new podcast “Household Name”, Shaw explains how he built up his winery and how its wines eventually made their way onto the shelves of Trader Joe’s. To hear the full story, subscribe to the podcast for free here.

Trader Joe’s has sold nearly a billion bottles of its famous “two-buck Chuck” wine since 2002 – but the man behind the wine hasn’t made a cent from it.

The Charles Shaw label, which includes Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, and a variety of other wines, sells for $US2.99 at most Trader Joe’s locations.

But the famously inexpensive brand wasn’t always so cheap and readily available. The original label produced prestigious, award-winning wines at Charles Shaw’s winery in Napa Valley, starting in the 1970s.

After seeing success in Napa Valley, the real Charles Shaw briefly sold one of his gold-medal-winning Gamays for $US2 a bottle at Trader Joe’s. But that $US2 Charles Shaw wine isn’t the two-buck Chuck that’s in stores today.

When he tried to scale his business, Shaw ran into trouble. His wines were contaminated with a petroleum flavour due to a packaging error, and he lost 10,000 cases. Then, a bug called root louse destroyed his main vineyard. Later, his wife, who had funded most of the business, filed for divorce and removed Shaw from it.

After Shaw lost his business, a trustee for the Charles Shaw winery became the owner of the Charles Shaw brand and label design – including the name Charles Shaw.

The Charles Shaw brand, label, and name were acquired by a businessman named Fred Franzia for Bronco Wine Company for $US27,000. Franzia held onto the name until 2002, when he brought it to Trader Joe’s to sell at $US2 a bottle. The real Charles Shaw had nothing to do with this deal and didn’t find out it about it until after the fact.

Shaw, 74, currently lives in a high-rise apartment building in Chicago, working nights on databases at the Chicago Board of Trade.

Though two-buck Chuck still has his name on the bottle, Shaw hasn’t seen a penny of his legacy’s fortune.

To hear more from Shaw himself, listen to “Household Name,” a new podcast from Business Insider. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or your favourite app. Next week’s episode tells the story of how Coca-Cola conquered Mexico, finding its way into religion, culture, and politics, creating one of the country’s presidents.

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