Scouring the bottle shop shelves often raises questions as to why some wines that are made from the same variety and come from the same region can vary in price so significantly.
But getting the fruit off the vine and onto a table for the consumer is a complicated web of pricing that may not be as simple as first thought.
The first consideration is the fruit. Where it is grown and how it is grown has a significant impact on price. It’s not uncommon for fruit contributing to Australia’s most prestigious brands to fetch more than $15,000 per tonne. Per tonne!
On the flip side, much of the bulk wine market has collapsed due to the trade restrictions with China in recent years and some fruit from the Riverland was recently offered for $180 per tonne.
The varying scales of quality play their part here too. Vine age, the region in which the fruit is grown and how it is grown all increase the cost. Those wines that are organic and biodynamically farmed fetch a little more too.
Harvesting the fruit is another consideration. Is it handpicked or machine-harvested? The latter being significantly quicker and less laborious. If the vineyard is owned by the business, the cost is kept down as opposed to those winemakers or wineries that source their fruit from growers or other wineries.
The Barossa Valley, for an example, is dotted with growers who have farmed their land for generations. Some 300-plus growers sell their fruit to all and sundry. Given the Barossa has some of the oldest vineyards in the world, those older vines attract a premium for the quality of fruit that they bear. It’s not unreasonable for the grower to increase their pricing with their fruit in high demand.
Buying trends play their part too. The soaring appetite for grenache has seen its price per tonne in McLaren Vale triple in recent years, and growers are reaping the reward. A curious fact is that the average price of grenache in the region is now higher that the average price for shiraz.
Another consideration is the winemaking and how hands-on the process is. Large facilities will crush, ferment and press off wines with the push of a few buttons, whereas smaller wineries will handle the fruit meticulously to sort the best quality to then hand plunge and dance about the winery shifting a never-ending number of hoses and pumps.
The cost of oak is another input that adds up. The best French oak will attract a higher premium, particularly when only two barrels can be made from an 80-year-old tree. Consumers would know some wines are aged in American (and even Hungarian) oak. The reasons for this are two fold: the American oak imparts different characteristics on the wine and the price of this vessel is half the price of the French oak.
Less expensive wines seeking the impact of oak will use either oak dust, oak chips or starves that are tossed into a stainless steel tank.
Once the wine is finished, packaging is another consideration. Regulations impact price as well as supply chain issues and taxes. A shortage for glass bottles due to the pandemic saw high-end bottle prices surge, with some producers now paying $8 per bottle. Add the cost of bottle caps or corks and labels, some wines cost upwards of $15 before the bottle is even filled.
Bottle aging by the winery adds another cost. Time is money, and storing the wine in a temperature-controlled facility for a year or two, or even five years plus, will ensure a premium is added on release.
With the finished product ready to hit the shelves, the limited production and availability of a specific wine will elevate the price. Brand reputation is a big consideration too. Some brands have gradually built a reputation over time demanding a high retail price. One such brand was on the shelves 20 years ago for $150. Clever marketing and demand has raised the current price beyond $800.
At the end of the day, the wine landscape is littered with excellent wines at every price point. Just because a wine is expensive does not make it great, but if you ever get the opportunity to taste wines over a range of price points, you’ll sure see the step-up in quality in most cases.
Steve Leszczynski is a wine writer, author, wine dinner host and MC. Apart from writing for his website qwinereviews.com, Steve co-authored a book, Grenache – Barossa Grown. He contributes to Halliday Wine Companion magazine, Vinomofo, Wine Business Magazine and Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.