A third historical benchmark may be added to the history of the modern day California wine industry.
The first was the 1976 tasting contest called “Judgment of Paris” when nine French experts agreed California wines they had blind-tasted were better than the French wines.
The second was the 1991 60 Minutes “French Paradox” broadcast where it was reported the French people live longer, healthier lives because they consumed copious amount of red wine. Red wine sales skyrocketed by 44 percent after the broadcast.
The third may be the awarding of a double gold medal to Freddy Franzia's “Two-Buck Chuck” recently at the California State Fair wine tasting as the best Chardonnay in California. That's right. Franzia/Bronco Charles Shaw 2005 California Chardonnay (retail $2 per bottle in California and $3 elsewhere) beat out 300 seemingly inferior Chardonnays produced by some of the biggest names in California viticulture/enology. It is a California appellation, which means the grapes could have come from Bakersfield, Fresno, Napa or Monterey counties. Only Freddy knows for sure.
The California wine industry cheered for the 1976 French wine tasting and the French Paradox because they raised the stature of California wine. Winemakers and premium grape growers reached for the oxygen bottles and nitro pills after Freddy's gold medal.
The man who says no bottle of wine is worth more than $10 has once again set the California wine industry on its collective posterior.
Franzia said of the double gold, “The customer has responded to our great values and now the judges to our quality. This is why we're in business: to put the best wine possible on the customers' tables at a reasonable price. I just wish some other retailers and restaurateurs had the courage and good sense to make these super-value wines available to more American wine consumers.”
There is no need to rush to the local wine store to get a case of the newly crowned double gold Chardonnay before it's sold out. Franzia sells 6 million cases a year of Charles Shaw wine. It's not all Chardonnay, but there's probably a case or two left in the aisles at Trader Joe's if you want to grab some of the double gold wine. Whether it tastes exactly like the lot of double gold is another issue, but you can bet signage is already being printed, proclaiming 2005 Two-Buck Chuck the best Chardonnay in all of California.
Franzia is the most hated or loved man of the California wine industry, depending on your perspective. Premium North Coast or Monterey grape growers/wineries despise him. He has hit their bank accounts hard with not only Two-Buck Chuck, but with his Four-Buck Fred (Napa Creek label), which is 100 percent Napa and sells for $4 a bottle.
For others, he is worshipped for almost single handedly draining wine tanks of surplus Chardonnay and other varietals with his Two-Buck Chuck.
Regardless of the perspectives, there is no disputing the fact affable Freddy Franzia has once again shocked the California wine world. H double gold medal for a $2 wine at a major California wine tasting in 2007 will be talked about for years to come.