Log In / Join Now

mixed case: opinion and advice

Animal Blood Wine! Dogs and Cats Living Together! Mass Hysteria!

A fabricated tale about Two-Buck Chuck proves that some people can't take wine seriously
Photo by: Mark Weinberg

Posted: Aug 27, 2014 11:50am ET

By Mitch Frank

We live in a golden age of information, a global communications network allowing the people of this planet to share brave new ideas and crucial information—like the breaking news that Arby's now offers a "meat mountain" of eight kinds of meat and two types of cheese on a bun.

So maybe we don't always use the Internet to bring down dictators and protest police brutality. The dog days of summer do not facilitate heavy thinking. Hot August weather is for taking refuge on the floor next to an AC vent or in a glass of chilled white wine. (Would people so eagerly dump ice water over their heads for charity in February?)

But sometimes the inter-webs take a mental vacation too. That's how everyone ends up talking about the animal blood in Two-Buck Chuck.

Of course, there is no blood in Chuck, more formally known as Charles Shaw, the value-priced brand sold at Trader Joe's. But that didn't stop the Huffington Post from recently suggesting there is in a post that asked how the wine could be so cheap. 

It answered its own question by quoting a three-year-old post by a retailer who claimed Chuck's owner, Bronco Wine Co., uses mechanical harvesters that yank off branches and anything on the vines—grapes, bugs and nesting birds too. "Everything, and I do mean everything (including all those unripe grapes, rotten grapes, leaves, stems, birds, rodents and insects) gets tossed into the crusher and transferred to large tanks to ferment." He said the wine was doctored post-fermentation with sugar to mask the taste. 

If you know wine, you could smell the problems with this story. Bronco buys much of the wine in Chuck on the bulk market, taking advantage of oversupply to secure low prices. Mechanical harvesters are built to gently vibrate branches until grapes drop off. Bronco's winery is not picturesque, but it's undoubtedly clean—an industrial facility of gleaming stainless steel tanks. And adding sugar post-fermentation? Illegal in most wine regions, including California

Bronco owner Fred Franzia (read our 2006 profile) is not a pillar of vinous virtue—in 1993, he pleaded guilty to passing off cheaper grapes as more expensive Zinfandel. But he's smart and has lawyers. The story was taken down. The retailer apologized, saying his words had been in jest.

So why did this story spread? Franzia's reputation helped, but rumors usually catch fire if they confirm some preconceived notion. And some people suspect there's something phony about wine, even those who occasionally drink it. 

"It's booze," they say. "Anyone who pays over $10 a bottle is a sucker." Ironically, the same people say, "No good wine can cost just $2.99. What's really in it?"

Similarly, since Rudy Kurniawan's conviction, several stories have speculated that counterfeit wine is rampant. One wire service estimated that 20 percent of wine on sale worldwide is fake. Really? August also often brings articles about how people can't really taste the difference between cheap and expensive wine or that "Wine Tasting Is Junk Science." All of this is meant to tell you, wine-loving reader, to stop taking wine so seriously. Don't be a snob. 

How do you answer that? Because it's nearly impossible to explain to someone what Champagne tastes like or how the rocky slate of a German hillside can shape a glass of fermented grape juice. 

The best response is probably to say, "Yeah, you're right. It's just booze. But you know, the birds really add some flavor."

Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  August 27, 2014 1:10pm ET
It's funny, but I took a business law class that pulled the curtain back on the food industry. By US law you can have a certain number of insect parts per pound of butter, so much sawdust in a loaf of bread and so forth. The reality of any large-scale production is that you're going to get some real life in your food and drink. After all, I think it's estimated that we each eat about 12 spiders in our lifetimes (while sleeping of course). So a few yellowjacket husks and a handful of pesky fruit flies aren't really going to hurt us in a few thousand gallons of wine. Blood though? I doubt anything big enough to impart any significant amount of blood can get past the equipment/people anywhere in the wine world.
Pam Strayer
Oakland CA —  August 28, 2014 12:18pm ET
People look for danger in wine in all the wrong places.

The most dangerous substances used in the wine industry are spread on the vines, not into the wines. And it's not animal or bird parts, but thousands of pounds of fungicides (the ones that are implicated in bees dying off), pesticides and far from benign herbicides.

In California alone, the state Dept. of Pesticide Regulations statistics say the wine industry used the following in 2012 statewide - and this is just on wine grapes:

Bird and Bee Toxins

• Boscalid: bee hazard, possible carcinogen
53,340 pounds a year over 239,940 acres

• Chlorantraniliprole: bee hazard
3,877 pounds on 52,626 acres

• Imidacloprid: kills bees and birds
44,040 pounds spread on 189,885 acres

• Methoxyfenozide: kills bees and birds
28,711 pounds spread on 139,978 acres

Carcinogens - Probable and Possible

• 1, 3 Dichloropropene: probable carcinogen
666,004 pounds on 2,648 acres

• Mancozeb: developmental toxin and probable carcinogen
9,482 pounds on 6,465 acres

• Oxyfluorfen: possible carcinogen
71,267 pounds on 181,160 acres

• Pendimethalin: possible carcinogen
142,253 pounds on 68,146 acres

Neurotoxins

• Chlorpyrifos: neurotoxin
52,341 pounds on 28,359 acres

• Glufosinate ammonium: neurotoxin
70,701 pounds on 114,000+ acres

But Wait There's More...Much More

• Paraquat dichloride: acutely toxic; suspected endocrine disruptor
99,172 pounds on 112,926 acres

• Roundup: kills microbial life in soil
646,014 pounds on 431,891 acres

Pre Plant Vineyard Fumigation

The most intensive and highly toxic applications are applied when vineyards are replanted.

In organic or Biodynamic farming, the vines are pulled out and replanted after the field lies fallow - a process which takes three years.

Some chemical farmers, who don't want to wait, pull out the vines and then basically nuke the soil - killing every type of living organism in it. They treat the soil not as a living system but as a sterile planting medium. To do this, they apply:

• 1,3-Dichloropropene: probable carcinogen; produces birth defects in lab tests
2011: 446,349 pounds over 1,624 acres

So no - the wine industry isn't exactly making California vineyards a good, safe place to be. The chemicals wind up in the air, water and soil. And, as we see from numerous university sponsored health studies, in human beings, as well.

For anyone who wants to see what is being applied in their area, the State Dept. of Public Health publishes maps, which allow you to map pesticide use for wine grapes in all of the growing regions in the state. To see the maps, go to http://www.ehib.org/tool.jsp?tool_key=18


Daniel Davis
New Orleans, LA, USA —  August 28, 2014 4:06pm ET
Seems like a case of "sour grapes" to me. The basic questions are pretty straightforward when it comes to the price/value relationship. Do you like the wine? Is the price good (or fair) within the context of your purchase? If you answer "yes" to both, then buy it!

One of the great joys of wine is that variety is almost limitless. Given that, our choices must be made and judged in the appropriate context.

It is odd to me that such wild accusations have been made against this simple (and tasty) wine. Why, when the price of Chuck is almost exactly in line with box wines of similar quality, do we think it's too good to be true? If it makes you feel safer about the purchase, just imagine 6.67 bottles all together in a box with a spigot.

I like finding good values. Sad that we've become so cynical. Luckily, the proof is in the pudding. If you like what you are tasting, then the wine is good. Enjoy!
Kevin
Denver, CO —  August 30, 2014 5:34pm ET
blood would be pricier......(perhaps tastier)
Michael Digennaro
Harlingen, TX —  September 10, 2014 11:21pm ET
I understand Blood Wine is very popular with the Klingon Empire.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.