Is Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck wine really made from animal blood?

The Huffington Post says cheap Trader Joe's wine is actually made from animal blood. Is that true?

Vineyards at Bronco Wine Company where, as The Huffington Post tells us, animal blood is turned into wine.
Vineyards at Bronco Wine Company where, as The Huffington Post tells us, animal blood is turned into wine.
Vineyards at Bronco Wine Company where, as The Huffington Post tells us, animal blood is turned into wine.

It’s called “Two-buck Chuck” and it sells like crazy at Trader Joe’s. The name comes from the price ($1.99… though today it retails for a hefty $2.99 a bottle) and the winemaker’s name (Charles Shaw… who actually doesn’t make the wine).

Here in California you can’t miss the stuff – boxes of it typically dominate the (decent) wine section at any given TJs location. Though it’s available in several varietals, Chardonnay is the one that’s generated the most buzz. You wouldn’t expect Miles from Sideways to find it even remotely “quaff-able” and yet it has garnered some praise in some parts of the wine world, and won a few wine competitions, even when matched up against pricier, more esteemed wines from Napa and Sonoma.

There’s no shortage of Two-buck Chuck bashing. Some of it, I suspect, comes from pretentious, maybe even envious, posturing. How dare an entrepreneur buy up Central coast vineyards, and mass produce cheap wine in a ridiculously bold attempt to take on the establishment?! It could be that success breeds contempt, or it could be there’s some truth in there. Who knows, the reality is probably not quite as dramatic as some would have us believe.

Fred Franzia, the man behind the bulk wine, is a polarizing figure. Google his name and no shortage of perspectives emerge.

ALSO SEE: Report: 1 in 10 West Coast wineries likely to sell in next five years (Silicon Valley Bank)

But, I’m actually not here to either support or debunk the man, his wine, or his businesses.

What gets my goat is something called…

Native advertising.

It, in a word, stinks.

For a primer, watch John Oliver’s hilarious and informative take-down on the nefarious practice:

Basically, native ads are regular news articles and editorials that are, in reality, thinly-veiled advertisements. Companies pay publishers–The New York Times, The Atlantic, TIME–to place these pieces. Readers typically can’t tell they’re ads because they’re disguised as just another editorial, just another news report. A small tagline at the top designates the article, for example, as a “sponsored post.” The practice is concerning, though somewhat tragically not surprising given the moshpit of viral content the Internet has bestowed upon us. Typically there is a firewall between the business side of journalism and (oh, say) the fact-finding, objective side. Never the twain shall meet. Well, that is until the Internet crushed the traditional print ad business, and then destroyed the concept of paying for anything. Native ads are just one more, desperate, attempt by reeling publishers to monetize disrupted business models.

What, Charlie Brown, does this all have to do with Trader Joe’s and Two-buck Chuck? I’m getting there, but first…

The latest slam against Fred Franzia comes from an “article” in The Huffington Post. It’s only 5 paragraphs long, and clearly the author is not a fan, not in the least:

“…to make $2 wine one must compromise all sense of integrity and quality, own tens of thousands of acres of vineyards in the worst possible wine region possible where land is incredibly cheap and yields are exceptionally high, use machines to execute every part of a homogenized system that substitutes manipulation for hand crafted quality, and own every step of the winemaking process including bottling, packaging and distribution, all while giving the finger to the entire wine industry and plowing down anyone who gets in your way.”

There are no sources mentioned when the author describes the rather wicked sounding harvesting process used to make Trader Joe’s wine. Tractors with “huge claws” grab grapes! Rodents, birds and insects are inadvertently mixed together with the grapes! Animal blood into wine!

While we’d likely not confuse a Charles Shaw Cabernet with one from Etude anytime soon, the guy who wrote the HuffPo piece seems to have quite the flare for the dramatic. Here I was thinking red wine was red largely because of the grape skin. Ha, silly me. It’s because of the animal blood. Of course.


After re-reading the article I discovered something that I missed the first time.

“So That’s Why Trader Joe’s Wine Is So Cheap!” (published August 4, 2014 on is a native ad – the article is not an article.

Look closely at the top of the web page and you’ll see a small ad inviting us to become fans of Quora (so we can user generate profits free for the company).

The article in question is, in fact, a comment (“answer”) left on Quora–get this–three years ago.

However it came about, Quora ultimately paid Huffington Post money to run that article. An “article” which turns out to be merely an apparently off-the-cuff comment written in response to a question (“How is Trader Joe’s wine so cheap?“) some random wine buyer (with 12 years fine dining experience).

The whole thing reeks on so many levels:

1. It’s a native ad which, as John Oliver points out ever so eloquently in the video above, is a dubious and unfortunate practice. Or more practically it’s “repurposed bovine waste.”

2. There is no fact checking to substantiate any of the claims about Bronco Wines (the company behind Two-buck Chuck). Could it be true? Sure, I have no idea. But when it comes to burden of proof should HuffPo not treat an article/editorial differently than a random comment?

3. The article is a cut-and-paste hack job. Worse still, it’s copied (verbatim) from a comment made 3 years ago.

And here I was, enjoying my day, thinking the Internet was fair and unbiased.

UPDATE 8.9.2014 – I received an email from the Quora PR team (below). The Huffington Post article “So That’s Why Trader Joe’s Wine Is So Cheap!” has been taken down.

Subject: Clarification from Quora

Quora has a relationship with the Huffington Post in which answers from Quora writers are republished on the Huffington Post. This relationship doesn’t involve anything financial; neither Quora nor the Huffington Post is paid by the other. 
The Huffington Post has since removed the post from their site in accordance with their blogger terms. Quora has also removed the answer because it was found to be in violation of our terms of service.

Editor’s Note

This blog post contained un-sourced claims about Two Buck Chuck and its proprietor, Bronco Wines. It has been removed from the site in accordance with our blogger terms.

And for context here’s the original Quora answer (that’s also since been removed) from the thread “How is Trader Joe’s so Cheap?“- the one that was used as an “article” on Huffington Post, apparently without the commenter’s knowledge or consent:

The basic gist of it all is that Two Buck Chuck is owned by Bronco Wines, which is owned by Fred Franzia, a trash-mouthed, unapologetic downright crude and shrewd business man who sees it as his mission to pretty much remove any shred of pretentiousness (and dare I say integrity and quality along with it) from the wine world.

He started by buying the then failing Charles Shaw label years ago along with massive amounts of bulk wine in the 90’s for pennies on the dollar and a staggering 35,000 acres of land in the very cheap San Joaquin Valley which he then planted to vines. That gives his Bronco Wines the prestige of holding the most acreage of vines of any American winery, even surpassing Mondavi and Gallo.

A few things to keep in mind about his vineyards: one is that they are located in what is known as the Central Valley in the California wine world which is notoriously flat and quite hot producing massive yields of overripe grapes. The other thing is that Fred Franzia is no dummy — he planted those vineyards in such a way as the rows run north-south, giving the vines maximum sun exposure and he made the rows as long as he possibly could, minimizing the number of turns his tractors would need to make. And third, these aren’t hand-picked vineyards … they are all machine harvested. And that means these large tractors with huge claws go down the rows of vineyards grabbing the grapes and depositing them in its huge receptacle. And it not only grabs ripe grapes, but unripe and down right rotten ones as well and throws them all together. Add to that leaves, stems and any rodents, birds, or insects that may have made those vines their home — they all get thrown into the bin as well. And guess what? You think there’s going to be any sorting when that truck arrives at the winery (or should I say processing facility)? Nope. 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. So think about all the animal blood and parts that may have made their way into your wine next time you crack open that bottle of Two Buck Chuck! Hardly even seems worth the $2 does it?

If you were to taste that wine right after it was made, I guarantee you it would be undrinkable. They will then manipulate the finished wine in whatever way necessary, including adding sugar or unfermented grape juice if needed to make the wine palatable. And then the wine goes into bottling, packaging and shipping facilities, all of which Fred Franzia owns himself. They then get put on trucks (also owned by Fred Franzia) and shipped to Trader Joe’s. The only part of the process Fred doesn’t own is Trader Joe’s itself and I’m sure if he got his way, he’d include that in his empire as well.

So the summary is this — to make $2 wine one must compromise all sense of integrity and quality, own tens of thousands of acres of vineyards in the worst possible wine region possible where land is incredibly cheap and yields are exceptionally high, use machines to execute every part of a homogenized system that substitutes manipulation for hand crafted quality, and own every step of the winemaking process including bottling, packaging and distribution, all while giving the finger to the entire wine industry and plowing down anyone who gets in your way.

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  • YankeeintheBluegrass

    This whole thing clearly illustrates what is wrong with “reporting” in 2014.

  • Mac0swaney

    This practice has been around for a lot longer than the Internet. In print, these were called advertorials.

    • SFMH57

      The term “native advertising” is far too respectful and classy sounding for this junk like this that’s being shoveled at us by corporations. It’s still all “advertorial,” plain and simple period.

  • Octavia Guerra

    Native ads are misleading? Like posing a question in the headline and then not answering it in anywhere in the article? It’s a worthy and noble goal to highlight these problematic practices in the media, but you lose all journalistic integrity when you employ the same clickbaiting tactics that you’re attacking.

    • Tim Koupe

      Nice try..desperate, reaching, hoping at best for moral equivalency with a value system that’s totally ok with that…I’m going to guess you’re a huffpost fan.

      • korhal

        I fail to see where you’ve proven him wrong.

        • Tim Koupe

          I fail to see where wrong-proving was an intent of mine.

          I successfully see a huffpost minion try to equivocate fraudulent private ads and opinions posing as full length fact-checked objective news articles with headline teasers.

          I find it pretty funny, since the attempt is so freaking obvious, and quite poorly executed. Sad to see such principles and values on display.

          • korhal

            So your only intent was to name-call instead of show how he’s wrong? That simply proves him right.

          • Tim Koupe

            Nope, my intent was to point out moral equivocation psychology. I was successful. You’re the only one needing the extra help with it.

            And no, pointing out moral equivalency doesn’t prove him right about moral equivalency. That’s a pretty weird logical trail there.

          • korhal



            Yes, you were attempting to point out moral equivalence, but seeing as there was little moral equivalence to start with, your entire point is basically lost. You should probably go back to the beginning and reread his comment. He pointed out hypocrisy, and you’re simply trying to feel intellectually superior. It was a good try, anyway.

          • Tim Koupe

            “Desperate” is an adjective that modifies a noun. It is not name-calling to describe a poor argument, but I think it’s funny that you think so. (Also, nice edit to remove “reaching” from your original post)

            The real hilarious part here is that your attempt to make “desperate” = name-calling is just as flimsy and desperate, and let’s not forget “reaching”, as Octavia’s attempt to equivocate full commercial advertorials with headline teasers.

            Seriously, I’ve never had so much fun watching someone hang themselves with their own rope. Please continue…I’ll stand by…

        • Octavia Guerra

          Also, FYI, I’m a her not a him. But thank you for pointing out Tim Koupe’s trolly ways.

          • korhal

            My apologies, Octavia. :)

      • Octavia Guerra

        Name calling: derisive “huffpost minion.” I actually despise HuffPo as a source for news and as a content mill.

        As I replied in another comment: My point was that Mr. Stark employed similar (not identical, mooting your false equivalency claim) misleading tactics by promising to answer the question of whether there really *is* animal blood in Two Buck Chuck (a clickbaity headline if I ever saw one). He then utterly fails to address his leering “Is it true?” question anywhere in the article. Hypocritical, much?

        I’m not a fan of native ads. I’m not a fan of HuffPo. But if you’re going to attack the practice, don’t leave yourself open for such easy criticism or title the article more accurately. The article has some great points about a reprehensible practice, but he losing the moral high ground when he uses similar methods of favoring shock value over delivering promised facts. It’s not that hard.

        • Tim Koupe

          Yeah, you used more words, but it’s still desperate and reaching. I’m sorry, but commercial advertorials aren’t even relatable to headline teasers.

          He failed to answer his own headline question. The advertorial was over a thousand words of pure opinion pimped as fact based journalism. One was a tease, the other a fraud.

          Yes, it’s not that hard at all. And you actually came back to double down on that?

    • peabody3000

      the end result is having highly misleading info branded under the marquee of a leading news source, purely for the sake of an advertiser’s profit. mainstream news is far from perfect but paid misinformation is beyond the pale regardless

      • Octavia Guerra

        I’m not arguing for the legitimacy of native ads. Advertising masquerading as journalistic content is misleading and inappropriate, but sadly a sign of our times. My point was that Mr. Stark employed similar (not identical) misleading tactics by promising to answer the question of whether there really is animal blood in Two Buck Chuck (a clickbaity headline if I ever saw one), and then utterly fails to address his leering “Is it true?” question.

        • peabody3000

          he sure did. i honestly wonder if he knowingly aped those tactics in a cynical way for a sly comic effect but we’ll never really know

    • nowayjosejose

      He did answer the question. It was with sarcasm but he did answer it.

  • Tim Koupe

    Yeah, go figure. The media organization that spends so much energy polarizing and attacking Fox news over ostensible journalistic violations of integrity and decency, uses “native ads” to showcase their journalistic principles. Why am I not surprised?

    • mausium

      Huffington is herself a conservative, as a “news agency” her site does no good for liberals either.

      • Tim Koupe

        No she’s not. She was a liberal, then switched coats to conservative in the early 90’s, then has come back to liberalism, for the most part. She describes herself as neither liberal nor conservative, even though her position on issues clearly and obviously line up with liberalism. Her site does great good for liberals like Fox does for conservatives.

    • To be fair, Fox News is basically one giant native ad.

      • Tim Koupe

        To be fair, any news is, and has been, a native ad business.

        But what can you expect from corporations in the information profit business?

        They do to information what Micky D’s does to cheeseburgers.

  • teatime

    I agree about the dubious pedigree of the info & the lame copy/past repurposing, but where’s the evidence that HuffPo was indeed paid for running this?

    • mausium

      “but where’s the evidence that HuffPo was indeed paid for running this?”

      The Quora banner.

      • James Donnaught

        Says it’s from Quora . . . it doesn’t say money changed hands. Quite likely it’s content sharing, an attempt by each site to pick up readers from the other’s audience.
        Whether this sort of bartering, rather than cash payment, renders it “not advertising” is an open question. Trivial to you and I, perhaps, but not to the IRS.

  • dougeducate

    So, the headline here is ”

    Is Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck wine really made from animal blood?” but you never answer the question. Seems a bit misleading, no?

    • peabody3000

      i cant argue with that even if i greatly appreciate what the author does instead call attention to. but to attempt an answer myself, what i know is that the harvesting machines a slow hulking beasts that dont in fact rip grapes off with claws. they lumber on up and shake the vines to get the grapes to drop. birds are virtually guaranteed to have scattered although the occasional lizard and frog is seen in the grape sorting facilities of most any winery. i have no idea what bronco’s grape sorting technology or procedures are

    • Andrew Ovenden

      The animal blood headline is a satirical poke at the headlines from the Huff Post article (and elsewhere where the same article was reprinted under similar headlines). It wasn’t meant, as I’m sure the author will tell you, as a serious question to be answered, so, no, it’s not misleading. It’s a faint echo of the original misleading headline, but used to make a point.

      • ashotinthedark

        Both the headline and the text right under it certainly lead one to believe that the article will actually address whether or not TJ’s cheap wine contains animal blood. If this is satire, it’s really poor satire.

      • dougeducate

        Seems other people think it is mislead and if it is satire, it is a poor attempt. So, yes…it is misleading. Something tells me you do not know what satire is.

      • Octavia Guerra

        The point is lost because as ashotinthedark notes, it’s used not once, but TWICE. Once in the headline and once in the lead-in.

    • mausium

      The answer is “No”.

    • Actually he kinda does in that he admits that he doesn’t know for sure, and that it’s entirely possible. But the point of the piece is Native Advertising, which he states clearly halfway in. At that point, you really shouldn’t be looking for an answer to the question in the first place.

      • dougeducate

        I was not talking about the article, I said the headline.

    • Tim Koupe

      Nope. You obviously didn’t read the article. The author doesn’t know because the piece was about suspicion of commercial ads being pimped as news articles. The headlined question is funny because that’s the essential claim by the commercial ad.

      Only religious conservatives choose an answer (and call it “truth”) when one is not known. Try not to be like that.

      • dougeducate

        I was not talking about the article. However, I did read it. My post was about the headline. It clearly states that in my post. Why are you so confused? Only religious conservatives make stuff up that isn’t there. You are just like them.

        • Tim Koupe

          Ah ok, you’re confused. Here, let me help you.

          A headline is a title of an article. The body of the article is the other piece. They do not exist separately. They are one, like a banana and its skin.

          So yes, you will mostly never find an answer to a headline framed as a question in the headline itself….because it’s a headline. The answer will be dealt with in the body of the article – in fact, the body typically IS the answer.

          I don’t think anybody had any idea you expected an answer within the headline. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who just reads headlines as if they are complete ideas and stories.

          But they, different strokes…all that…

          • dougeducate

            I was saying the headline was misleading, not the article. The headline leads you to believe he will answer the question in the article. You validated that by saying “The answer will be dealt with in the article – in fact, the article typically IS the answer.” with that one statement you validated my initial post, thanks! Still confused?

          • Tim Koupe

            Nope, I’m not confused one bit. My previous post to yours addressed your issue precisely. You expected an answer to a headline within the headline itself. I find that weird, and without any precedence whatsoever.

            The body goes with the headline – together, they make an article.

            Also, you weren’t misled, nor was anyone else, since you clicked on the very headline that didn’t contain an answer within itself – you saw it contained no answer, but clicked anyway.

            How exactly was anyone misled? mislead, would suggest you expected an answer in the body, since you already knew it wasn’t in the headline.

            Have a nice day trolling. I won’t make the mistake again…

    • Keith Pritchard

      In traditional old style winemaking ox blood is used as a fining agent to help wine fall clear. Wine is also fermented and naturally clears more than about any food, so it would be no issue there. On the other hand Welches Grape juice made from Concord grapes is pretty much all machine picked, so would also have MOG (Material other than Grapes) in it. Of course it is also hot pressed and then pasteurized, but would more likely have elements in it other than grape much more likely than any wine. I think the old saying is “its best not to know what goes in to making laws and sausages”.

    • James Donnaught

      Misleading, but it does grab the attention of the readers… and you can follow the links if you want the answer. (“No”)

      The actuaal topic is how pure internet crap is converted into “content” (in this case, from a source ranking slightly above Yahoo! News comments in qualty and reliability) without even the pretense of fact-checking; the issue is how the practice feeds bogus information to people who think it’s “news”. The rare retraction, days later, usually goes unnoticed. The result is a shocking degree of ignorance among the public, and it has real consequences: when millions of people vote based on misinformation, imbeciles get elected, and representative democracy has a big problem.

      “Native advertising” is something entirely different; I’m surprised that the author misses the mark so completely.

    • nowayjosejose

      Here I was thinking red wine was red largely because of the grape skin.
      Ha, silly me. It’s because of the animal blood. Of course.

      It’s not as explicit as you seem to want but that’s pretty much an answer.

      • dougeducate

        I think the point I was making might be a little too complex for you. Stay in the shallow end.

  • Do you really think someone would do that? Just go on the internet and tell lies?

  • UncleFire

    “fair and unbiased” — lmao. That’s a good one.

    Anything on the “interwebs” should be taken with a ginormous grain of salt (brought to you by Morton Salt). Even your article — which is an opinion piece, not necessarily news — should be treated that way..

    • You should take it a step further in that everything you read or see on tv should be taken with a grain of salt. Everyone has an agenda. You should consume news the same way you’d pan for gold. Sift through for the sparkly bits and throw away the junk.

  • Jeremy J

    Clearly not native advertising nor advertorial. HuffPo didn’t pay for that opinion piece and if you need to verify the author’s claims, they are pretty well-documented (SFGate, DrVino, et al). If anything, this article is the one looking for click-bait by adding “ANIMAL BLOOD” to the headline.

  • I was unaware that the HuffPo thing was basically a comment reposted as an article.

    On another note, though: a good rule of thumb in consumerist culture is, “you get what you pay for.” Eat canned veggies instead of fresh? You’re probably eating some ground bug bits too. Drink cheap mass produced wine? Probably getting some foreign bits there, too. This should not be news in the first place. It should be common sense.

    • Tim Koupe

      Exactly. Quality / Price, common sense really. That’s the nice thing about the market, you can pick and choose where you want to save or spend, based on your own sensibilities and hangups.

      I’ll happily drink that cheap wine. We all eat bug bits, daily, no matter where you get your food and drink.

  • phood

    It sucks. But no one likes to know the reason it sucks. It’s because so much online is free…news, music, whatever. If you don’t pay for it, creators have to get paid somehow and “publishers” such as like Arianna Huffington, they have figured out various sensationalistic ways to get paid.

  • Trent88

    The irony is, your article has no sources, either. Label it as an opinion piece, please, and make the effort to ensure it doesn’t show up in a “news” feed. Considering that final paragraph in your article, I would label this whole thing a sham to get people to subscribe to your publication, not an objectively written article that examines the state of journalism for scholarly pursuit. In other words, have you been under a rock? “Native advertising” is nothing new at all. You can probably find examples of it dating back 100 years or more. Put away your supercilious, smug judgment and recognize that you are as guilty of hucksterism with this piece as anyone.

  • Jeffrey Andrew

    I think the blood part of the piece distracts us from the bigger point and that is Trader Joe’s and Fred Franzia has done a great job in making us believe that quality wine can be made so cheaply that you can sell it for two dollars a bottle. The Bigger question is do we really want the industry to go in that direction when we have done such a good job internationally on building a reputation as a growing wine making force. Australia is dealing with the fallout of flooding the market with crap wine and now is having to sell wine to china just to keep the industry a float. I hope we as consumers we stop trying to find the bottom of the barrel and try to look for quality and properly priced wine.

    • James Donnaught

      “Properly priced” is an interesting concept, but as a consumer, I’m a bit more interested in “value”: affordable wines that I actually like (and the pleasures of the hunt.)

      Australia’s problem wasn’t the volume, it was the declining quality of the product. People (myself included) just stopped buying it. The “Yellowtail” label used to mean “decent wine for the price”, but they abused the brand. Today it means “plonk”, and it’s unlikely to ever recover.

  • As a 4th generation wine grape grower from the Central Valley of CA, I appreciate your well written view of this Hack’s take on the farmers and wine makers of our region. Since finding this article last night – we have had a lively discussion about how Media works. Your article is posted — I hope you join the conversation — we would be honored to show you how wine is produced in the San Joaquin Valley! :)

  • James Donnaught

    That’s a FLAIR for the dramatic. (Just sayin’. No need to keep this posted.)

  • sam101com

    The Huffington Post” has removed their post, but I believe it said something along the lines of … large tractors with huge claws go down the rows of vineyards grabbing the grapes and depositing them in its huge receptacle … I don’t drink much wine, but I don’t like brands like Huffington Post not checking facts either.

    Mechanical harvesting was introduced in commercial vineyards in the 1960s, it has been adopted in different wine regions for economic, labor and winemaking reasons. More vineyards than Bronco Wine Company use this method. It reduces work force making the use of mechanized labor a necessity for competition.

    A mechanical vine harvester works by beating the vine get the vine to drop its fruit onto a conveyor belt that brings the fruit to a holding bin. The harvesters have difficulties in distinguishing between ripe, healthy grapes and unripe or rotted bunches which must then be sorted out at the winemaking facility. Another disadvantage is the potential of damaging the grape skins which can cause maceration and coloring of the juice that is undesirable in the production of white and sparkling wine.

    Mechanical harvesting is the relatively low cost, and is able to run 24 hours a day and pick up to 80-200 tons of grapes. Compared that to the 1-2 tons a human picker can harvest.

  • Joe Strange

    Huffington Post is a joke. So is the LameStream Media.
    The ‘native ads’ are not a whole lot different from the ‘policies’ of the regular media which follow both a commercial and a political agenda. The media is much like the protest rally and the anti-protest rally on opposite sides of the street, where all of the posters and arguments are preprogrammed to a narrow world view.

  • nowayjosejose

    Seems that people really struggle with ironic headlines…I guess we’re all too literal and need everything spelled out for us.

  • austin

    Those who control information controls the world. It falls on us to dissect and make sense of.

  • TJ O’Hara

    Wine is fermented grape juice. That’s ALL it is.
    NEVER buy a bottle of wine over $10 – the 11th+ dollar goes to advertising, marketing, and payola.
    The difference that “terroir” makes is minimal.
    Three-Buck Chuck is a very good everyday table wine.
    Period. End of Sentence.