"Two-Buck Chuck and the Marlboro Man", Books, California, Charles Shaw Wine, Marlboros, San Joaquin Valley
Aris Janigian admiringly reviews a new book profiling two iconic figures from his own part of the Golden State.
DECEMBER 2, 2019
I WAS BORN AND RAISED a farmerâ€™s son in Fresno and currently live here, working seasonally in the wine industry. But Los Angeles was home for most of my life, and whenever I learned that friends were heading to San Francisco, Iâ€™d suggest they take Highway 99 through the San Joaquin Valley instead of Interstate 5, which skirts the valley to the west. The 99 is a little longer route but so much more colorful (which isnâ€™t necessarily to say â€œscenicâ€).
No one ever took me up on my suggestion, and they didnâ€™t have to explain why not. After all, their impression of the middle of the state, de rigueur for Angelenos, is that gun-owning, pro-Trump types live there in dusty, beat-up towns with ugly names â€” Arvin, Alpaugh, Delano â€” that reek of cow dung. The valleyâ€™s fields are green but also monotonously endless, and none of its vineyards are rolling and soft on the eyes. Sure, itâ€™s part of California, but not really â€œof it.â€ These scoffers know, in the abstract, that this is where the huge majority of Californians, and a good portion of the entire country, gets its food, but arenâ€™t all those mega-farmers in the middle of the state also stealing precious water from salmon and smelts? The scoffers would much rather chat about their local farmersâ€™ market, urban garden, or at least Whole Foods.
In fact, those mega-farmers are, for the most part, simply proprietors of small farms that, over a generation or two, have grown big. And, true, weâ€™re talking about thousands of tons of tomatoes or almonds, and wells several hundred feet deep, and chemicals siphoned out of 250-gallon totes to keep mold and an array of devastating and exceedingly perseverant insects down; but if it werenâ€™t for the sheer scale and efficiency of farming in the San Joaquin Valley, only the rich in this state could afford a melon or a peach.
Neither, for an office party, would we have the option of picking up a case of Charles Shaw wine â€” which is precisely where Frank Bergonâ€™s storytelling begins in his new book, Two-Buck Chuck & The Marlboro Man. As it turns out, Fred Franzia, founder of said winery (a.k.a. â€œTwo-Buck Chuck,â€), went to school with Bergon in Madera, a city about 20 miles north of Fresno. Now, decades later, theyâ€™re at a coffee shop, itâ€™s midmorning, and the writer is trying to tease out of the winemaker the explanation for his mind-boggling success.
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