Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Two Buck Chuck, Kirkland Champagne, Wine in a Box.

With Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) set to open a store in Boulder and later Denver, many of us have been anticipating the arrival, as well of Two Buck Chuck, though only one of those stores may actually sell the wine. Colorado’s liquor laws generally prohibit grocery stores from selling wine and spirits. The exception is that one store in a chain may sell those items, so it is possible that one or the other of the TJ’s will sell wine and spirits, including presumably Two Buck Chuck.
Two Buck Chuck is actually Charles Shaw wine and it sells for $1.99 a 750ml bottle. You can get either red or white. It is one of the items that TJ’s has become famous for.

It is also representative of a development in the wine business.
Years ago wine consumption in the United States (and perhaps everywhere except France, Germany, Italy and the Iberian Peninsula) was not widespread. People generally did not think of having a glass of wine regularly with dinner or at more than a special occasion – New Years and champagne, perhaps. And at that time selection in most domestic wine shops or liquor stores was fairly limited. There was cheap plonk, cheap fortified wines and more expensive dry wines, usually from Europe.

Wine was being produced in California but its general distribution was pretty much limited to ‘jug wines’ from Gallo, Italian Swiss Colony, Almaden Cellars and the like. Paul Masson vineyards did start marketing its table wines in what is now the equivalent of the 750ml bottle on television with an ad campaign featuring Orson Welles: “We will sell no wine before its time.”

Now, people around the world consume wine regularly and a visit to your local wine shop provides you with a wide and varied selection of wine: cheap to expensive and from almost anywhere. California and the rest of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, wine has become global. And good quality wine has become less expensive and ‘cheap’ wine has become much better.

Two Buck Chuck and the like provide an extremely good value at the price.
TJ’s is owned by Aldi Nord part of a German Discount supermarket chain. One of the hallmarks of the German chain is the ability to discount by selling house brands. Cutting bulk buy discounts with suppliers and selling under the Aldi name. TJ’s does the same thing with the Charles Shaw –Two Buck Chuck – house brand.

But TJ’s is not the only retailer doing this and not only with low-end discount wine.

Last year in Hawaii, we were making our regular stop at Costco on the way to the Condo on Kauai. Costco, in Hawaii, can sell wine and spirits on site (not as a separate operation as is the case in Colorado). I was in the wine department and picked up a bottle Veuve Clicquot champagne. It was $40 a bottle. But then I discovered the Kirkland Brand Champagne at $20 a bottle. It was the same champagne: Veuve Clicquot champagne bottled under the Kirkland name. This is happening everywhere. Good quality wine being sold under a house brand name at a lesser price. This not only provides great value for the consumer, but it puts downward price pressure on similar quality wines not being sold under a house brand.

And finally there is the matter of the box wine. It too has come a long way. It is now possible to buy box wine that is drinkable. And it is going to get better. As the stigma of wine in a box fades, wineries will be more willing to put a better quality wine in a box. This is wine not meant to be laid down and cellared but wine meant to be consumed right away; wine for use at a tailgate event, or such. Because it comes in a box doesn’t mean it has to be junk.

The way wine is marketed, sold and packaged is changing. Traditionalists will resist (sometimes, I do too) but change in the industry is a fact of life, so I go with it - I really have no choice.

I love fine wine in a glass bottle with a real cork, but in some circumstances a glass of Chardonnay from a box will do just fine. And then later, I will have some Kirkland Champagne from a glass bottle with a real cork.

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