price of wine
is it getting
seems that three things are certain in life: death, taxes and rising
wine prices. Thereís no getting around it, but for all but the
low-end wines, price rises have outstripped inflation by a comfortable
margin over the last decade or so.
the low end, prices are pegged back by sacred price points (£4.99, £5.99
and £7.99 seem to be the most inviolable), with the result that
branders cut the quality of their brands to keep to the price point.
But for high-end wines, a variety of influencesóno doubt including
supply and demand, but also with a healthy element of merchant and
producer Ďambitioníóhave conspired to raise the prices of
high-end wines to painful levels.
the very top level, prices are now simply farcical. Napa Valley
Cabernets retailing at £50 a bottle now seem to be the rule rather
than the exception. Donít bother going shopping for Bordeaux or
Burgundy unless you have at least a crisp £20 note in your pocket,
and preferable two or three. £20 is the starting point for top
Languedoc wines. Good Barolo will set you back at least £30 a pop. I
could go on.
a growing phenomenon in the world of wine. It seems that wealthy
would-be proprietors buy an estate or property harbouring the ambition
to make Ďgreatí wine. Taking themselves seriously, they lavish
care and attention on the vineyards and winery (a posh new
architectural marvel of a building is required), hire a consultant
winemaker and then fashion a limited-production marvel of a wine. This
is then launched, with fanfare and an appropriately heavy bottle, onto
the market at an astronomic price.
largely vanity winemaking, of course. Have you noticed how few of
these new estates set out with the ambition to make reliable,
good-quality wines that express their sense of place and at a price
that most people can afford? Thereís not a lot of humility in these
new projects. Very few are willing to make good wine and then build
their reputation over several years and even decades.
isnít going to happen, partly because of the cost of vineyard land
necessitates a relatively rapid return on investment. And because the
proprietors have lavish lifestyles that need supporting. Thatís why
the worst excesses of this trend have come from California. I suspect
there arenít that many people in the Californian wine scene content
to make a living, without getting rich.
it would be wrong to pin all the blame for expensive wine at the door
of producer greed. Go to France and travel round the wine regions.
There are lots of characterful wines, full of interest and
personality, for sale relatively cheaply (with Bordeaux and Burgundy
perhaps being the exceptions). You can buy them directly from the
producers over there, but if you find the same wines for sale in the
UK, be prepared for a bit of a shock. Why? Because a decent wine
selling for 10 Euros in France will probably set you back around £15
here in a wine shop.
not all the Chancellorís faultóduty is just over a pound of that
bottle price, and VAT is a little less over here than it is in France.
Itís because two groups of people have snatched their own fairly
healthy margins on the purchase price before the wine has got to you:
the agents/wholesalers and the retailers. And letís not even get
into the discussion of restaurant prices. This argument doesnít just
apply to France, but also to the rest of Europe.
think itís a shame that we canít get decent European wine here at
sensible prices. In particular, I feel for the producers who are
knocking out very good affordable wine, but canít sell it at the
right price in the UK because of the clumsily expensive UK trade. I
donít see why wine should need to more than double in price in its
journey from the producerís cellar to the wine shop shelf.
trade might respond that if we saw the producerís price for a
dishwasher or a DVD player, and how much that got marked up in the
supply chain, then weíd be equally (or more) appalled. Perhaps this
is true, but it still doesnít make me sympathetic to the fact that
the producerówho makes the financial, emotional and artistic
investment in the productóis the one that appears to be getting
stiffed in this supply chain. Readers in the trade will probably
accuse me of naivety, and point to the USA where wine costs
considerably more, and the fact that relatively few people get rich
out of the UK wine trade. Iím just reporting the way things look
from here, with my consumerís hat on.
look at this another way. If producers can make a decent living out of
winegrowing, this is good for wine because more smart, talented,
ambitious people will be persuaded to invest in vineyards and make
wine. Look at the revival of appellations such as CŰte
RŰtie: a host of small quality-minded producers have emerged in
the last decade or so, precisely because they know their efforts will
if the greed or inefficiency of retailers and agents make wines like
this uncompetitive in the UK market, sales will plummet and theyíll
put the squeeze on producers to lower prices. The producers are caught
in the middle because they need access to market. Or producers will be
forced to find a different market, if one exists. The danger is that
if thereís no incentive for producers to excel, then eventually this
will have a negative impact on the quality of wines that are produced.
This would be a great shame.
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