Wine Talk

Snooth User: vin0vin0

QPR vs varietal

Posted by vin0vin0, Feb 15, 2013.

OK, so we we're sitting here having an excellent filet of salmon, consuming a very nice Russian River pinot noir and started conversing about why is there such a wide disparity in the quality of pinot noirs.  Why is it that there are very few (if any) good inexpensive pinots?  Seems like we can find a halfway decent less expensive, chardonnay, cab, viognier, syrah ..., but can't find a less than, say, $20/bottle pinot that really strikes a chord.  We've consumed many a bottle of inexpensive and expensive pinot but there seems to be a wider disparity in QPR with them than with other wine types. Any insights, opinions, arguments, observations?


Reply by GregT, Feb 15, 2013.

Because people will pay more for Pinot Noir than for something else. That's why Burgundy costs so much. It's a little tricky to grow and ripen, maybe more than some grapes, but it's not all that unique in that respect - there are a lot of tricky grapes like that. People have attached a kind of mystique to it as if it's a really special grape as compared to so many others, but IMO, that's pretty much BS. However, since it's a belief held by many, they're willing to pony up for a middling PN and they'll excuse the mediocrity. If you're lucky enough to get something good, you trumpet that news to all creation and you raise your price.

I guess when it comes down to it, people are so flabbergasted when they get a good PN that they lose all sense of reason and proportion. It's the job of people like you and me to make sure those people don't hurt themselves in their delerium.

And BTW - there's nothing all that magical about salmon and PN. Bad match IMHO. It's just that they have salmon in Oregon and Washington and they wanted to have some "local" pairing ideas, so they came up with that. Twenty years ago, that didn't exist.


Reply by JonDerry, Feb 15, 2013.

Pinot is tough to vinify, and producers have a tough time making this in bulk with any consistency/quality, and by bulk I'm thinking 20-30k+ cases. Would be interesting to hear the biggest producers who are also well respected.

Reply by Mike Madaio, Feb 15, 2013.

I think it is more related to the fact that Pinot is difficult (expensive) to make than demand. Pinot's thin skin makes it highly susceptible to disease, rot, and other problems related to weather and timing of the harvest. In other words, it's high risk.

Reply by GregT, Feb 17, 2013.

Well that's one story. But there are plenty of grapes with the same issues.  Nebbiolo is also difficult to grow, at least as much as Pinot Noir. Zin is hard to get exactly right because it doesn't ripen evenly.  Sangiovese has thin skin and ripens late, making it susceptible to lots of problems. Merlot is hard to get just right.

Cab Sauv is one of the few grapes that produces complex and good wine in a number of environments, .

But in wine, the cost of production has little to do with the price of the final product. High risk or not, there's a lot of Bordeaux that is selling for 20 or 100 times what it costs to produce, only because people will pay. You can put out the same effort growing Zin as you do Cab and people will pay a lot more for the Cab. That's why Napa is overwhelmingly Cab these days, even tho they can produce fine Zin. Why bother?

As a result of it's recent popularity boom, there's a lot of PN planted that's going to turn out uninspiring wines. Since people are paying a premium for the fashion these days, they're going to pay more than they should and they'll be disappointed.

Say you get about 60 cases per ton of grapes. You actually get a bit more, but that's round. That's about 720 bottles. In 2009, Cabernet from Napa was selling at around $4500 per ton, whereas PN and Zin were at somewhere around say, $2700, which comes out to about $6.25 a bottle for Cab and about $3.75 a bottle for the other two.

Premium sites charge more, lower prestige sites charge less, but those were the averages put out by the Napa Vinters Assoc.  Add your vinification, barrels, etc., and you put a few more bucks on. Let's say you add oh, $5 per bottle, which is actually high, but it doesn't really matter because you're adding the same number to both..

It's less about the cost of producing the grapes, which is all reflected in the cost per ton. It's more about the premium people will pay for marketing and hype. Today people are willing to pay extra for Pinot Noir, so the producers are going to charge more.  


Reply by JonDerry, Feb 18, 2013.

Yeah that's true Greg, at least in CA or the States, the varietal carries more weight than the site. In France, it tends to be the region, and producers within those regions that presumably have the best terroirs that get the lopsided amount of attention, but it's set up that way with the permitted varietals and other govt. rules and restrictions. 

Outside of the States, an interesting varietal mash up is in Piedmont between Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto. Clearly Nebbiolo gets all the acclaim and hype in what makes for a huge difference in price and demand, but perhaps it's deserved?

Reply by JonDerry, Feb 18, 2013.

Also brings to mind, had my folks over for dinner tonight and my dad was raving about this Cabernet Sauvignon he gets from Whole Foods for $2.99 - it likely sees little to no oak, which is obviously a pretty significant factor in winery costs. Not only the oak itself, but the amount of time it sits.

Reply by GregT, Feb 18, 2013.

Yes to both except that the land costs in many parts of Europe are less because people have owned the land for many years. So if great-granddad was making whatever the blend is, and he paid for the property, you may pay to upgrade but you're not dropping $100,000 an acre.

But it's the same story. People don't pay for Bordeaux or Burgundy or Barolo because it's so expensive to make those wines. The cost is a fraction of the overall price. I don't know where I stored this info but in most of Bordeaux, it's a lot cheaper to make wine than in CA and the costs are astronomically higher. Those Burgundy vines may take a lot of work, but that's not what drives price. It's a lot harder to work in Priorat and those wines, except for a few, don't get the same prices as Burgs. And in CdP, those wines have increased in price not so much because of cost but because of acclaim.

Domaine Serene in Oregon was very clear about that. He stated point blank that he was going to charge premium prices for his wine because that would get them respect.

Oak is from $500 to about $1000 a barrel for top quality French.  You get roughly 300 bottles, so assuming you're buying the most expensive, that adds 3.33 to your cost, which is why I used the $5 figure before. Add a consultant you pay $50,000 to for the year and vinification and labels and corks and it's not all that much per bottle extra. Those costs are the same in Europe or the US. It's nowhere near $50 to produce a bottle anywhere, even in Tokaj, where the work is tedious and long and those bottle still sell for less than d'Yquem, which goes for hundreds a bottle - not based on cost, but because it's consciously sold as a luxury product. That's why LVMH owns them.

Reply by JonDerry, Feb 18, 2013.

Re: price, well it's basic economics. If you price to demand, then you'll maximize profits, as in the profiteering that's been going on in Bordeaux. There's much less Burgundy being produced, so even if the prices are ridiculous, the producers aren't making the same kind of money.

Cost based pricing can work by luck if it lines up with demand, but a lot of times it's really over-priced, where the producer often finds out really quick (lack of sales), forcing them to both scale back pricing and increase quality. 

As to the costs/bottle, I'd expect the marketing/human resources to be more significant costs than the actual wine production for those luxury brands!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 18, 2013.

Right, there is less Burgundy that Bordeaux, and that, plus good marketing of Burgundy as a region (rather than the labels within Bordeaux, it's the vineyards that are rated) means demand is high enough to support higher average prices. 

Funny that GregT points out that Nebbiolo is as hard to grow and vinify as PN. I think of Barolo as a wine that has a very high entry price and just goes up from there.  

Believe it or not, there are good, inexpensive PNs.  Not as many as there were before Sideways, but I find bottles from folks who dabbled in PN and then got out, or made-up labels when someone has extra juice that are often pretty darn good.  Castle Rock also makes some good bottles, but there's a lot of inconsistency because they are appellation bottlings, not vineyard--most of what they sell I understand to be overrun juice from wineries that have too much on hand.  

Anyway, unlike GregT, I do find the occasionally transcendent bottle of PN that brings as much pleasure as any wine can--there's a silkiness and aroma to PN that exceeds almost every other grape, IMO, but that's just one person's taste.  Frankly, there are probably only a handful of varietals that I don't have some great memory of, of the ones I have tried.  

But when it comes to being disappointed by a grape, PN has nothing on Chardonnay  by me.  I am so worn out on everything made from that except a handful of, yes, bottles from Burgundy, esp Chablis, that I have just stopped buying it.

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