Wine prices determined by some factors that might surprise you

Edward Finstein

Wine and champagne with streamers

‘Tis the season of gift giving and wine surely is high on the list for the oenophiles in your life. Whether shopping for that perfect bottle for yourself or someone else, prices for wine are all over the map. Some wines simply cost more than others. There are numerous reasons for this.

Let’s start in the vineyard. Certain grapes are harder to grow and require more vineyard management, such as pruning, canopy control, and bacteria/pest prevention. Older vines produce less, but better fruit, and maintaining them is more work and costly than propagating younger vines. Often, some of that fruit from older vines is thinned out further so that the quality of the remaining grapes is enhanced.

When it comes to picking, hand-harvesting grapes is much more labor intensive than machine harvesting. The extra work involved is passed on to the consumer in the final price of the bottle.

Winemaking techniques can also raise the price of a bottle.

Pressing is one of them. The juice of commercial or low-end wines is achieved by a “hard press” (metal against metal). It extracts maximum juice, but also delivers bitter elements because of the hardness of the process. Better quality wines are “soft pressed” by the inflation of a rubber bag within a tank that gently seduces the juice out of the grapes without any bitter components. It’s more expensive than hard pressing.

What a winemaker ferments in can add dollars to the final price, too. High-end stainless steel tanks with temperature control are more expensive than tile-lined concrete tanks. Producers sometimes ferment wines in oak barrels that can be extremely pricey, too.

Aging techniques impact price

After fermentation, there is the question of aging.

Certain finished wines are kept at the winery and aged for some time until the producer deems them ready for sale. Storing at a winery takes up space and does not result in immediate sales to cover their production costs. Included in the final price of these bottles could be some sort of “rental” fee for the space it took up at the winery.

Barrel aging is another expensive procedure. Type of oak, age of oak, and the amount of time spent in it can all add up. French oak, for example is much more expensive than American oak, costing up to $1,500 for a 226-liter barrel. If a particular wine requires new oak, then barrels have to be purchased each year for that wine. A lengthy time spent in barrel takes up space and the barrels have to be maintained and sometimes topped up. All of this adds up in cost.

When bottling wine, there are other points that can increase the cost.

The type of closure is important. Natural cork still seems to be the best enclosure for wine and is certainly more expensive than polymer versions or screw caps. Even within the realm of natural cork, there are better ones. Corks cut entirely in one piece from a tree as opposed to conglomerate versions are pricier and longer corks rather than shorter ones carry a heftier price tag.

Finally, we have the bottle and the label. Heavier bottles or specific shapes with a deeper “punt” (the indentation in the bottom of the bottle) cost more and artist-designed labels, compared to commercial, cookie-cutter styles, are expensive.

Beyond this, wines that are small production and limited availability will most definitely cost more. Gold medals obtained in competition and rave reviews from the media can certainly drive the selling price up. Let’s not even consider markups by your local retailer.

Now, when you’re out shopping for wine, you’ll have a better idea why one wine costs more than another.

© Edward Finstein, “The Wine Doctor,” 2015. “The Wine Doctor” is Edward Finstein, award-winning author, TV/radio host, renowned wine journalist, international wine judge, professor of wine, and consultant.

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