Charles not in charge
Fred Franzia buys up the trademark and slashes the wine's price. The $1.99 tag stirs up a slew of rumors about the wine's quality, some of which aren't terribly off the mark. The brand is sued for the levels of arsenic in the wine.
Eddy: Franzia used the exact same name and the exact same label on the bottle. Even the same original artwork: a picture of a little pagoda that used to sit by [Shaw's] tennis court. He shocked the world by slapping a $1.99 label on it. Everybody in the industry thought it was impossible. He had the testicles that nobody else had, to sell wine at that price. He'd shoot over to Portugal or France and knock on the door of a cork or glass producer and say, "If I write you a check for $2 million, will you fill up this boat with cork? I don't care about quality."
Wallace: A few years ago, a report came out, claiming machine harvesting left branches, bugs, and birds in the grapes in the wine. It's true that there is method of machine harvesting, which I believe [Franzia] uses, and you get some bugs and birds in it. It sounds gross but it's not really a big issue. The FDA has requirements on how much of that is OK. [Note: Franzia has claimed the company uses methods to filter out branches and animal residue.]
Brian Kabateck, lawyer: The company's white zinfandel is one of 83 California wines that tested positive for high levels of inorganic arsenic. Our conclusion is that something is going on inside the winery, not in the field where grapes are grown. More likely than not, they're adding something to the wine. It may be something in the filtering process that they're using -- something akin to cheap diatomaceous earth. Those high arsenic levels have an effect on the reproductive and cardiovascular systems. It has been linked to cancer. Arsenic is basically poison. It's a significant public health risk. [Again, Franzia declined to comment for this story.]
Wallace: It's not actually good. It's so sweet and nasty. It's full of residual sugar, which is bad for consumers. It's not hard to make cheap wine. You can make anything cheaply by cutting corners. It is the complete industrialization of wine, making it a commodity like grain. A lot of it is automated with little concern for quality.
Eddy: The last time I was at Bronco, they were doing 7 million cases. That was 2010. It's still one of Trader Joe's most popular products.
Wallace: Can you imagine how much that would suck? It's your dream. You work hard and make really good wine. Then, all of of a sudden, your name is tainted.