Why some wines cost so much more than others

Posted by admin | July 20, 2020 | Blog

Now, perhaps more than ever, there are pressing demands on our wallets and purses. As they’re largely linked to global socio-economic trends and events, there’s not a lot we can do about them. But where does that tightening of the purse strings leave our relationship with wine? That perennial question, often heard at dinner parties, is being asked again – is an expensive bottle really so much better than a moderately priced one? And what makes it so costly in the first place?

As ever, the answer is rarely a simple yes or no. Occasionally, though, it is clear cut – there is undoubtedly much overpriced wine in the shops – always has been, probably always will be. But on the other hand, a good wine is only good because expensive things such as time, expertise and good old-fashioned love have gone into making it. These vintners – often small producers – know what they are doing and they have done it thus for years. 

Yes, Burgundy has some highly-priced (and prized) wines, but not all Bourgogne wines have to be expensive – with their ‘30 under $35’ range, Elden Selections proves once again that knowledge and personal connections to smaller producers can result in extremely affordable wines. In other words, Burgundy really can be an everyday drink. It’s no coincidence that these wines are selling out quickly – there are some gems here. For example, you can get your hands on a noteworthy Bourgogne Rosé from Gabin and Felix Richoux – their Irancy Rosé 2018 which is available from September 2020. 

If sparkling is more your thing, try the Domaine Borgeot Crémant de Bourgogne – a wine which is made on a more human scale than the millions upon millions of bottles produced by its neighbors to the north. There are also reds from Domaine Marchand-Freres – in existence since 1813 through seven generations – and whites from Elise Villiers and Herve Felix from appellation Saint-Bris, amongst many others.

Some people might say that smaller producers have it easy: they probably have no mortgage to pay on property that has been in the family for centuries; they have no visitor centers to pay for; and they don’t need to invest in huge marketing budgets when word of mouth and effusive praise will suffice.

Well, by way of an answer, let us not for one moment forget how hard it can be to make wine (and profit) here. Take Chablis; if your grapes are not ravaged by freak frosty mornings in late spring, they could be destroyed by hailstones the size of golf balls or threatened by pests or fungi. Extreme (and expensive) measures are taken here to protect grapes – smudge-pot burners (chaufferettes) burn at night to keep temperatures up; ice sprays coat grapes to give them protective jackets of ice; and cannons fire silver-iodide skyward to disperse ominous-looking clouds. In a really bad year, a producer might end up with one bucket of grapes per row of vines, or less. But you’ve still got your overheads and the investment you’ve put into a damaged crop, which won’t be made up until next year. Add to this the wealth of experience working the land and family lineage going back generations, you can see why you end up with a product worth paying for.

There are many factors to take into account when pricing a wine. Let’s look at the main ones here:

  • The cost of the grapes – this varies considerably between regions and countries, and small vineyards of expensive grape varieties are unlikely to come cheap; it’s important to note that in burgundy, many producers own their vines and do not have to buy from outside growers;
  • The vintage – if one year had particularly good weather, fewer pests etc, then this will push prices up, especially if word spreads and demand increases further;
  • Aging – the older the bottle, the rarer it will become, and as aging brings benefits to the wines in terms of flavor profile and length of finish, aged wines command higher prices. Plus, if it is aged in oak, then this will add further to the price – oak barrels can cost around $600 each if they’re American oak, but will rocket up to between $1,200 and $2,400 each if using European oak. If several collectors vie for these same-aged bottles, then all bets will be off. 
  • Labor costs – vary according to region, number of staff, and the practices they are required to use (see below);
  • Viticulture methods – if a vineyard uses hand-harvesting, or horses to plough with, it’ll take longer and cost more than large-scale mass-market operations;
  • The name – big names still command big prices – usually for good reason, but occasionally proving that on-the-ground knowledge and relationships with small producers can still trump big-name marketing claims;
  • Other factors – the design of the bottle; the glass used to make it; the type of closure on the bottle top; the investments in new equipment or property; the fashion of the day; taxes; tariffs; ratings; favorable reviews – all of these feed into the ultimate price. 

Burgundy, as a region, is shaped like a narrow belt running top to bottom for about 60 miles, with about one fifth of the hectares of vines that Bordeaux has. It’s built on centuries of historical legend and folklore. The terroir (land and soil) in this region is everything – subdivided and tricky to distinguish one boundary from another, often producing only a small number of bottles. That rarity means value. There will never be enough Burgundy wine to satisfy growing global demand, but there will always be a wine for everyone, whatever their budget and tastes, and that’s the appeal of Burgundy – surely a price worth paying.