While scanning the shelves of your local bottle shop, you are no doubt thinking about grabbing a bottle of an old favourite wine, or perhaps sampling something new. As you stand there choosing between two bottles, trying to decide whether the eye-catching design on one label outweighs the band of gold medals on the other, you go to check the prices. One is super affordable, while the other costs a pretty penny in comparison – why such a variation in cost?
Many of us think that brand plays a big part in this price variation, with wine producers that are famous for making high quality wines being associated with a higher cost. However, premium labels such as Penfolds have wide price discrepancies across their range – their most expensive vintages can command tens of thousands of dollars, while their cheapest drop retails for $12.
The true cost variance between wine goes beyond the brand – here are some key factors that determine why some wines are more expensive than others.
It does not matter how you make wine – it costs money. Whether the winemaker chooses to employ machines or do most of it by hand, a lot of time and labour is invested into producing the end result that you get to enjoy.
The winemaker can make a number of choices throughout the winemaking process that influences the final cost. Using complex machinery that requires constant maintenance can drive up costs, as can handpicking during harvest to ensure that only the finest fruit is picked.
The process of selecting the finest grapes also contributes to a premium price. Fruit sorting is an investment of time that reduces the grape material able to be used, while selecting only the purest and highest quality juice reduces the overall volumes able to be bottled and sold. It is these choices that the wine producer makes which has implications for the quality of the wine and the cost to the consumer.
The yield of a given vineyard can also impact how much a bottle of wine costs. Vineyards with lower yields often produce better quality fruit (and therefore wine), due to natural conditions or legal boundaries that restrict the majority of harvest to a single vineyard. This limits overall output but also enhances scarcity, which can drive up the price of a bottle of wine.
Use of oak
Winemakers use oak barrels to add flavour and texture and allow maturation in wine for a number of reasons. However, these barrels don’t come cheap, which is why wine aged in new oak tends to fetch higher prices. While winemakers do try to salvage old oak and use oak staves to combat rising costs, the preference for new oak tends to drive up the price of bottles.
Not too dissimilar from brands, certain geographic areas or appellations can command greater prices due to their appeal and reputation as a prime wine producing region. Bottles from appellations such as Barolo, Margaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape are deemed to be of higher quality and therefore attract premium prices compared to other winemaking regions.
Some vintages turn out to be better than others for a number of reasons – weather, pests, chemicals, vine diseases, natural disasters…you name it. For this reason, some stellar vintages that produce better fruits drive up wine prices due to increased demand, while a small vintage of exceptional quality can attract higher prices because of its limited supply.
Time is money – especially when it comes to wine. The longer a wine ages, the longer it sits in a barrel unable to generate money and cash flow. While not all aged wines are expensive, many premium bottles tend to incur higher production costs due to their longer ageing periods, which translates into a higher selling price.
If you are standing in the middle of your local bottle shop trying to decide whether a wine is cheap and nasty or a total price gouger, one way to understand the difference in pricing between wines is to become familiar with wine producers and labels. Understanding their winemaking process, terroir and region can help you ascertain whether it is worth splurging some extra cash on that bottle of wine.