(NOTE: This post and the one below are my last two wine columns. Occasionally old age seeps in and I forget to post these to this blog. All of my columns – all 90 to date – can be read at the link Grape Sense on the right hand side of this page.)
Among wine novices the differences between $6 wine and a $100 bottle remains a mystery.
One of my favorite anecdotes on that comes from a speech at a Central Indiana Kiwanis Club. I talked for about 10-15 on wine basics and then one member asked about $50 wine and why that’s better than a cheap bottle. I knew the guy was a golfer. Somehow and someway I came up with one of my best adlibs.
“I know you play golf, right,” I asked. “Well tell me, why do you use a $250 driver when Wal-Mart has drivers for $40?”
It got a laugh but also made the point. More expensive products of any type are usually more expensive based on brand, marketing, craftmanship, and better quality raw materials. The same can be said of wine. There are many factors contributing to price.
While standing in a Paso Robles vineyard in 2010 the grower explained part of his vineyard was for his higher-end Merlot. Another part of the vineyard’s grapes were sold to a bulk wine producer. The grape grower annually ‘drops fruit” or simply cuts clusters from the vines. Just like a flower or fruit in a garden, when you give the vine less produce the result is richer and better product.
But the price has to go up. Dropping fruit reduced the growers harvest to about 2-3 tons per acre. The vineyard for the bulk wineries produces up to 7 tons of grapes per acre. Prices vary by region and prestige, but it’s fair to say for a region like California’s Sonoma County the average price for one ton of wine grapes is around $2,000. Wine prices start to make some sense when you do the math.
But let’s not stop there. Chardonnay is California’s most-planted grape so it can be purchased around the $1,200 a ton mark. Cabernet or Pinot Noir grapes from the best areas can command more than $3,000 a ton. (Statistics from Sonoma Ranches.com)
Though there are many variables, here are some fun statistics: 1 ton of grapes can produce two barrels of wine. Each barrel holds 60 gallons or 25 cases equaling 300 bottles.
Grapes for better wines are handpicked, sorted, and treated like new born babies. Bulk or mass-market wine can be machine picked, machine sorted, and blended or aged in huge vats and barrels. The big-price wines are aged in small lots. I like to think of it as getting more love and attention.
Next comes marketing and reputation. You can search the cost of a bottle of wine and find a lot of different explanations. But it’s fair to assume that a single bottle of wine can cost from a few dollars to $40 or $50 to produce. France’s Revue de Vin De France reported just a couple of years ago that Dom Perignon Champagne costs about $30 a bottle to produce. But the world’s best-known bubbly retails for nearly $200.
J. Lohr and Louis Martini make really good $15 Cabernet and its available at Kroger. Robert Mondavi Reserve wines sell for $135-$165 a bottle. Mondavi is a wine made with better products, more craftsmanship, and a big name with a big marketing budget.
Is there a huge difference in the taste? Frankly, the differences are for more discerning palates. If poured an expensive wine, I believe even a novice will note it’s pretty good and clearly better. But how much is that worth for most wine drinkers?
Helping the average drinker find $12-$15 wines that taste like $20-$30 wines is why I write Grape Sense.
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