Boo-Buck Chuck

two_buck_chuck_front2.jpgEditors Note: When ES commenter miked emailed me this terrible story of a young vineyard worker that died from poor working conditions, I immediately knew I wanted it on the blog. Sure, we fuck around all the time, but we also care greatly about what we put into our body — the politics of food and its journey to the table. The new tag, Garden Fresh, inspired by rooms’ posts is a small gesture in that direction. Thanks, miked, for reminding ES that once in a while there are more important things than bacon.

I mostly stopped drinking “Two Buck Chuck” (aka Charles Shaw) when I moved from California to DC and found that it costs like $3.99 here—just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Also, I think it started to taste more like kerosene (or maybe my palate became sophisticated enough to recognize its gassy bouquet).

Whether or not you still indulge in 2-buck, or patronize Trader Joe’s, you might be interested in the sad story of a 17 year-old farmworker, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, who died of heat stroke working in the Stockton, CA vineyard that grows the grapes for Charles Shaw wines.

In summary: it was a 95 degree day, there was no water available for the first 4½ hours of the work day, when water arrived it was a 10 minute walk away. Maria didn’t get immediate medical attention because the contractor had cut costs by forgoing on required training for foremen.

Read all about it and, if you’re so inclined, write a letter to pressure Trader Joe’s asking them not to buy from suppliers that violate worker’s rights.

I’d always heard that the reason Two-Buck Chuck was so cheap and drinkable (at least formerly) was because of a bumper crop of grapes in 2001 or 2002 or something. Never really thought about it until now, but this explanation begs the question: why did it continue to be so cheap in subsequent years with no bumper crop? Maybe the owners and execs turned smaller profits and decided to take smaller salaries.

The story of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez suggests another possible answer.

Photo: Craig Nuttycombe

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  • JoeHoya June 27, 2008  

    This is a horrible story, and Merced Farm Laborers (the independent contractor supplying the laborers) appears to have screwed up in a lot of ways here:

    – She was underage
    – She was an undocumented immigrant worker
    – They didn’t provide adequate water
    – They didn’t provide proper training to their foremen to deal with heat-related illness
    – Some sources suggest they didn’t even provide toilets

    Criminal charges seem warranted, unless there’s something we’re not hearing about.

    That being said, the price of Two Buck Chuck (Three Buck Chuck in the District and Three-Twenty-Nine Chuck in the Commonwealth) probably has a lot more to do with the fact that Bronco is the fourth-largest wine producer in the United States and they are owned by Fred Franzia (his family sold their winery to Coca-Cola in the ’70s and you can still find it anywhere you see wine-in-a-box).

    Those kinds of economies of scale, coupled with his rather indiscriminate willingness to blend grapes from countless sources (they buy a lot more than they grow themselves) to achieve a consistent flavor (kind of like making non-vintage port) have a lot to do with the ability to keep the price of the bottle as low as it is.

  • gansie June 27, 2008  

    i actually have no idea if ive even drank 2-buck before. im such an east coaster.

  • miked. June 27, 2008  

    now you don’t have to gansie.

    i can picture fred franzia’s handsome mug, with his brimmed hat, gazing pensively at his pink glass of wine with grapvines and sunshine in the background … on the side of the box of Franzia in the fridge in my college house.

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