Wine. Some love it, some hate it. Generally, the former lord it over the latter. The topic alone is enough to halt a conversation with a coworker.
You: “I’m not a big wine fan.”
Coworker: ” … ”
(Insert sound of pin dropping.)
When it comes to wine, I land somewhere in the middle. When it comes to arrogance, I’m decidedly opposed. So it is that I’ve taken great delight in the recent rise of cheap wines. From Trader Joe’s “Two Buck Chuck” phenomenon to a little-known company called “Best Cellars,” wine prices are making a race for the bottom, all to the customer’s advantage.
One of my favorite wine gags finds Chevy Chase and the Griswold family ordering wine in a Parisian cafe. As the waiter flames them each in French, we catch a glimpse of satirical American ignorance and not-so-satirical French arrogance. As the family deliberates about a bottle of wine, the waiter oozes patronizingly, “I’ll just get you some dishwater from the kitchen. You won’t be able to tell the difference.”
If you don’t already know about “Two Buck Chuck,” you’re probably with Chevy Chase and me when it comes to wine. Nonetheless, whether or not you care about things like tannins and highlights, the rise of “TBC” makes for a great business tale. It starts with Fred Franzia (yes, the name’s no coincidence, though he’s no longer associated with the Coca-Cola owned brand). Franzia is the brains behind Bronco Wine Co., and he’s got a nose for grapes. Recently, when California grew too many, he bought up the excess for a song, blended it together (big no-no in the wine world) and struck up a deal with Trader Joe’s. Now, at two bucks a bottle, wine is even cheaper than water (Insert pun here).
What’s really interesting about “TBC” is not the rotgut price, but the top-shelf taste. Customers love the stuff – and no matter what you may think of the wine, the customer is always right. “TBC” has even beat out many of its far more expensive cousins in taste tests, including one, conducted by ABC, with culinary students at the Art Institute of New York City.
In another case of cheap wine and smart branding, Best Cellars has been peddling wine with the goal of making your wine-buying experience “interesting, useful, stimulating and fun.” Step into a Best Cellars and you’ll be impressed. Even if you don’t care for the wine, you’ll appreciate the presentation. Back-lit walls sport glowing bottles with irreverent (yet informative) descriptions of each brand. Meanwhile, the classic categories (White, Red) have been glossed over by choices like “fizzy,” “fresh,” “soft,” “luscious,” and “juicy.” This way, with prices nearly all under $15, your beverage won’t outclass your TV dinner.
Granted, some would stick up their noses at “Two Buck’s” and Best Cellars’s dishwater. But if you can’t tell the difference, I can’t tell the difference and the Art Institute can’t tell the difference, ignorance is bliss.
Something tells me Chevy Chase would agree.