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Column: Two Buck Chuck Franzia at it again with $10 restaurant wine

Freddy is at it again. Franzia, not Krueger.

The venerable mercenary vino merchant from Ceres, Calif., who gave the world Two Buck Chuck and created a totally new wine category, is trying to take extreme value wine pricing into restaurants.

It galls Fred Franzia, the president of Bronco Winery, me and most of my wine-drinking friends to see restaurants charge highway robbery prices for wine. It is an insult that wine list prices are twice as much or more than the same wine sells for at a grocery store or wine shop.

Wine experts say restaurant wine mark-up is less than the mark-up for coffee or tea. That makes me feel a lot more like shelling out $30 to $40 for a bottle of wine that cost $10 at Old Doc’s in Fresno.

Franzia has challenged restaurants to sell Bronco’s Salmon Creek wine for less than $10 per bottle, and he is willing to sell it to them for $2.50 per bottle.

Several of the articles on Freddy’s latest guerilla raid on the California wine industry quote wine experts as saying people will not buy $10 wine because it is perceived as cheap. Those same experts said the same thing about Freddy when his Charles "Two Buck Chuck" Shaw wine showed up at Trader Joe’s priced at $1.99 per bottle. Millions of cases later, Freddy’s bank account is bulging and new wine drinkers have been created.

Cumulative sales of all Bronco's extreme value wines about 14.5 million (nine liter) cases for the combined years of 2002, 2003 and 2004. Two Buck Chuck alone probably represented 80 percent to 90 percent of that total, according to Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates.

Two Buck Chuck spawned dozens of extreme value imitators and the category continues to be a major factor in California wine sales.

And now Franzia has Sommeliers pounding their tastevins on fine linen tablecloths at the venerable Franzia’s audacity to suggest a varietal California wine be sold for $10 per bottle in restaurants.

They should be raising their funny little tasting spoons in a salute to Franzia.

Don’t tell me Salmon Creek is garbage. I have not had it, but will and I suspect it will be the same excellent value as Two Buck Chuck.

Before you start e-mailing angry notes informing me not everyone can sell wine for $2.50 a bottle to a restaurant, I know that. Freddy with his huge bottling factory and his own distributorship may be the only one who can. However, if people continue buying $2 wine and start ordering $10 wine in a restaurant, they will move up to higher price offerings.

Impertinent Freddy is all about making money and showing up the rest of the California wine industry. He is also increasing wine consumption. According to Fredrikson, the U.S. will soon become the largest wine consuming country in the world. However, it is far from the largest per capita.

U.S. per capita wine consumption is a paltry nine liters. That is less than Canada, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, UK, Australia and 27 other countries.

Americans have yet to discover and make California wine part of their daily lives.

A brash, notorious 61-year-old winemaker from a Modesto, Calif., suburb may single-handedly change that. He has had a good start. If he pulls off his $10 restaurant wine, all you folks on the North Coast and Monterey may want to consider throwing rose pedals in his path during a parade through downtown San Francisco rather than suing and cussing him.

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