Charles Shaw is sanguine about the best-selling
wine brand that bears his name and has
made millions of dollars — for someone else.
BY MARTIN J. SMITH
Photograph by Tim Klein
Charles Shaw is the Pete Best of American
He watched from the sidelines as the
“super-value” wines marketed in his name
— sold through an exclusive distribution
deal with Trader Joe’s —became one of
winemaking’s best-selling brands.
Just as Best got ousted from the Beatles
right before the band hit it big, Shaw saw
the award-winning California winery he
started in 1979 slip from his control in
a cascade of financial trouble, agricultural
calamity, and divorce.
Trader Joe’s has since sold more than
a billion bottles of T wo Buck Chuck, as it’s
known, and Shaw — a West Point graduate
— hasn’t seen a nickel from those sales.
The company that bought the rights to his
winery paid less than $27,000.
The father of five, now 75, moved East
after his divorce, eventually settling in
Chicago, where he now runs a database
company. He still peppers his conversations
with names such as Mondavi, Gallo, and
Beringer, and he still longs to be a vintner.
But he’s sanguine about his path, candidly
sharing a few lessons from a career that to
some might seem as tangled as a grapevine.
Charles Shaw earned his MBA from
Stanford GSB in 1971.