Remember all those rumors when Charles Shaw wine first appeared in 2002 on the shelves of Trader Joe’s stores? My favorite was the one about a major airline having to dump the Charles Shaw wines because new airline regulations after 9/11 would not allow wine corkscrews on board. So the rumor continues with Trader Joe’s purchasing all the wine for a song and then selling it for an amazing price of $1.99. Of course most of us all know by now that Napa Valley’s good friend, Fred Franzia, owns and produces Charles Shaw wine. But few people who walk out of Trader Joe’s with a case of Cabernet in hand know that there really is a Charles F. Shaw, who once had a real winery by that same name in St. Helena.
When we visited Tudal winery a couple of weeks ago, I spotted a bottle of 1980 Charles F. Shaw on their memorabilia shelf. I asked about it and Alan Goldfarb, Tudal’s communication director, told me that the Charles F Shaw Winery and home was just north of the Tudal Vineyards. The Tudal Family and the Shaws were neighbors and friends who often shared their wines. Both Alan and tasting room manager, Doug Eisele, reminisced about the glory days of the Charles F. Shaw Winery.
Charles Shaw had big dreams about wines and, in particular, producing a Gamay Nouveau. He planted Gamay Beaujolais grapes with hopes of educating the Napa Valley on the pleasures of this wine that the French release by November 15. That of course never happened. He produced other varieties, all estate grown, using the latest in
winemaking techniques. He was perhaps ahead of his time. The winery began to fail and his marriage to Lucy Shaw ended in divorce. It was Lucy Shaw’s inheritance that had financed the winery to begin with, and after the divorce the winery was taken over by partners. Charles F. Shaw left the Napa Valley with little left but the proverbial shirt on his back.
In 1991 Fred Franzia bought the label for supposedly $18,000. He sat on that label until the first vintage was released in 2002. I’m not sure how much Charles Shaw wine has been sold, but it has to be well into the millions. I have two convenient Trader Joe’s stores near where I live on the S.F. Peninsula and I visit a third in a shopping center that we frequent. In all those stores, the cases of Charles Shaw wine are stacked on the walls and they seem to be literally flying off the shelf. It is truly an amazing phenomenon, and unfortunately one where the real Charles F. Shaw has never seen a penny.
Alan Goldfarb believes that the real Charles F. Shaw is living in the Chicago area. In 2006 Alan interviewed both Charles and Lucy Shaw Beatty (she lives on Howell Mountain) and did an article on each for the St. Helena Star. Both those articles are online at the St. Helena Star.