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Fred Franzia, affordable wine champion who created 'Two Buck Chuck,' dead at 79

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Fred Franzia

In this still image from an undated CNN video, Fred Franzia, co-founder of the Bronco Wine Co., inspected one of the company's vineyards in California's Central Valley. Franzia, whose company was one of the leading makers of value-priced wines such as the Charles Shaw brand nicknamed "Two Buck Chuck," died on Tuesday at age 79.

Fred Franzia, the man behind "Two Buck Chuck" and other value-priced wines that revolutionized the industry, has died. He was 79.

Bronco Wine Co., the 49-year-old California company he helped create with his brother and cousin, announced his death on Facebook, writing that it's "truly saddened by the passing of its founder and CEO, Fred Franzia." He died early Tuesday morning with his family by his side at his home in Denair in Stanislaus County, the company said.

Franzia championed affordable wine for the masses and frequently criticized his higher-priced competitors. "Who says we're lower-priced? We're the best price. The others, I think, are overpriced," Franzia told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009.

Perhaps his most notable contribution to American culture is Charles Shaw, a.k.a. "Two Buck Chuck." The wine, sold exclusively through Trader Joe's since 2002, earned that nickname for its affordable price that undercut its higher-priced competitors. "Take that and shove it, Napa," he once said in an interview.

"Core to his vision was a belief that wine should be enjoyed and consumed on every American table," Bronco's statement said. "When asked how Bronco Wine Company can sell wine less expensive than a bottle of water, Fred T. Franzia famously countered, 'They're overcharging for the water — don't you get it?'"

Bronco Wine is one of America's biggest wine companies, with a portfolio of more than 100 brands spanning wine, spirits and ready-to-drink cocktails. Wine Spectator estimates that it's the 13th largest wine marketer in the U.S., moving more than 3.4 million cases last year.

Notably, he never owned the boxed-wine brand that bears his family's name. His parents sold the Franzia label in 1973 to the Coca-Cola Co., prompting him to start Bronco Wine.

"My dad, he was not a fighter," Franzia told the New Yorker in 2009. "He just folded. And he and I went through a period of no communication, I think for five years. I just was pissed." (Franzia boxed wine is currently owned by the Wine Group.)

He's survived by his five children, 14 grandchildren and two sisters. In the statement, Bronco said that his "entrepreneurial spirit, tireless dedication, and his commitment to both his family and to the Bronco family will forever be remembered. His legacy will endure for generations to come."

Fred Franzia, the man behind "Two Buck Chuck" and other value-priced wines that revolutionized the industry, has died. He was 79.

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