Part deux of can cheap wine be good?
Money, money, money.. No this is not your child’s mantra, although it could be! ‘Shopkins’ might be making a dent in my wine budget. If you don’t know what Shopkins are, stop now and do a dance, and thank your lucky stars. One child’s obsession has made it around the house. I think even the dog is invested at this point.
What effects the cost of a wine?
Land and cost of operation – for example, an acre in Napa is expensive… about three times the price compared to Oregon. Also, if the land is on a steep hill, manual harvesting and pruning might need to be performed (vs. cheaper, faster machine harvesting), which – you quessed it – raises the price.
Also, location matters. As the saying goes, you can’t make good wine from bad grapes. Some parcels of land offer a better type of soil and environment for a particular grape variety than others. So, when you’re buying an inexpensive red wine from central California, it’s cheap bulk wine grown on the same kind of land that turns out massive vegetable crops, versus a red wine from Napa or Sonoma AVA, where the parcel of land should have the exposure/climate to make that grape shine – which again translates to expense.
Not every wine is oaked, but for wines that are, it is an expensive process. (Oaked wines tend to be CA Chardonnay, white Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, and Rioja, etc..)
Oak barrels are typically made from American, French, and Slovenian oak varieties, and winemakers choose whether the wine will sit in a new or used oak barrel. All this varies in prices, with new French oak at the top of the price range, at about $950 (compared to $450 for American oak).
Some grapes are just more expensive to grow. Merlot costs less per ton than Cabernet Sauvignon in California, given that Cabernet fetches a higher price tag. This varies from country to country.
Germany is a good example: In Germany, vineyards are steep. By steep, I mean Jack and Jill are not walking up this hill to fetch a pail of water. Which translates to manual labor – workers clinging to cliffs, handpicking grapes at harvest – which is expensive. German wine can be a costly experience for winemakers and may not always fetch the price it deserves. Cote Rotie aka ‘the roasted slope’ also has to be manual harvested.
Country vs country
Every country has its own laws, land, pests, and general challenges. Hot, drought-like conditions usually require irrigation, which is expensive, but you have places like Mendoza, Argentina, that lucks out from Andean snow melt. Hand picking or machine picking will also affect prices – think of the steep slopes of Cote-Rotie, France, which turns out very high priced Syrah, vs. the rows of vines on gentler land in Languedoc-Rousillon, perfectly spaced for a machine harvester.
Soil, topography, aspect on hill, country where grapes are grown and of course climate are huge factors in determining wine prices.
As you can see, a lot more goes into producing a bottle of wine than you might have imagined. Costs vary from country to country, depending on what issues they are dealing with – and on how much consumers are willing to pay. This means winemakers have to get creative, and often that they must make decisions based on cost.
They can use farming equipment to prune vines and harvest fruit, rather than hiring extra hands at harvest-time; they might use oak chips to bring in a toasty punch of flavor during fermentation instead of buying new oak barrels… and the list goes on. There are lots of things a winemaker and winery can do to create a cheaper, quality wine, while trying to avoid higher costs.
At the end of the day, yes, of course all of this will create a big gap in quality vs. wines from hand-picked grapes grown on coveted sites and aged in oak. But that doesn’t mean the cheaper wine has to taste bad! If it does, move on! The good stuff is out there, I promise.