The Tragic Death Of Wine Pioneer Fred Franzia

He came from a family of winemakers, yet The Sacramento Bee called him an industry maverick. He had a colorful track record but was best known for turning Charles Shaw into a household name and a bestselling wine. Fred Franzia, the co-founder of the Bronco Wine Company, has died at the age of 79.

His death was announced to the public via Instagram, and to Bronco Wine employees in a letter signed by his children Joey and Renata, per Wine Industry Insights, neither of which revealed the cause of Franzia's death. The email only said that Fred died at his home in Denair, California with family by his side. The family also shared a quote from Franzia himself, which read: "'We are fighting a good fight and at the end, we all have an expiration date," and adding that "Fred has been private about health issues and we appreciate all your support during this time."

Fred Franzia's grandparents were Teresa and Giuseppe Franzia who founded a winery in 1906 (per The Sacramento Bee), but which was later sold to Coca-Cola, and which, in turn, was acquired by the Wine Group (per Terravenos). Fred, his brother Joseph and cousin Franzia together started Bronco Wine Company in 1973 (per Instagram). Terravenos says the company's name is a play on the words "Brothers and Cousin."

Fred Franzia's record at Bronco Wines was a colorful one

At the time of his death, Fred Franzia was known for pushing the belief that everyone deserved low-cost wine; he even called on the California wine industry to "Give the consumer the chance to make the choice" during a conference in 2016 (per The Sacramento Bee). But before that in 1993, he was known for pleading guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit fraud when he is said to have told employees to put pricier zinfandel grapes on top of cheaper varietals — a plea which earned him half a million dollar fine, as well as five years in probation. He also challenged federal law which mandated that all Napa wines had to be made with 75% Napa grapes.

But even his tangles with the law eclipsed his work in marketing Charles Shaw's wine, aka "Two Buck Chuck." It was when he was positioning this Trader Joe's special that he became known for saying, "They're overcharging for the water — don't you get it?" when asked how Bronco could sell wines that were cheaper than water (per Wine Industry Insight). At the time of Franzia's death, The Sacramento Bee says over 1 billion bottles of Two Buck Chuck had been sold. 

He is survived by his children Renata, Roma, Joseph, Joey, Carlo, and Giovanna; fourteen grandchildren, as well as his siblings Joseph, Joellen, and Catherine, per Wine Industry Insight.