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
Aug 27, 2014

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."

Opinion

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