Why are some wines so expensive?

Last updated 05:01 05/11/2013
wine
WHY SO SHEETSY?: How can the market justify the huge variations in wine prices?

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Wine agony aunt Cathy Gowdie on why some wines are just so darn expensive. 

So, what is the justification for the huge price range we see for wines?

I get that some wine is made by boutique producers, but I also notice that craft beers and ciders don't cost significantly more than the big brands.

Cast your mind back, if you can bear it, to your year 11 economics class. You were listening to the bits about economies of scale, but by the time your teacher made it to the theory of utility you were probably dozing off, enjoying a quiet cigarette in the amenities block or reading furtive texts from your mates. (Don't think teachers can't tell. As they say, why else would you be looking down at your groin and smiling?)

It is true that big producers have the capacity to make and sell wine much more cheaply than smaller ones, but as you have doubtless observed, not all wines made by big producers are cheap and not all small-producer wines are especially expensive.

The pricing of really expensive wines is based on what the market is prepared to cop, with supply, demand and mystique all playing a part. The specific parcels of land on which these grapes are grown are relatively small - think of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti or, in Australia, Hill of Grace - and regardless of whether you think the flavour warrants the jaw-dropping spend, the reputation of these wines and their scarcity keep prices high and investors interested.

Beers and ciders - excellent drinks that they are - don't have an investment market in the way that wine does. Moving back towards the middle price ranges, reputation and spin do play a part but there are genuine, significant costs that influence the price of a bottle of wine.

Premium grapes make premium wine and they cost more to grow. Anything done by hand - pruning and picking are just two examples - costs much more than doing it with machinery. Organic vineyards typically demand more time and attention than those in which chemicals control disease and weeds. I could go on, but then I'd bore you as much as an economics class might.

A word of caution about not-that-expensive ''craft'' beers and ciders. As with wine, quite a few of those bottles you're seeing on booze-barn shelves with quirky names and labels are produced by corporates quietly cashing in on the thirst for drinks made in small batches by small producers.

If you really want to support craft producers, visit a brewery, read up and know what you're buying.

- Good Food

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