Price of pleasure…

Pardon me if, for just a moment, we throw open the wizard’s curtain…  I don’t want to take the shine off the pursuit of pleasure for anyone, but what role does price serve in pleasure?

Can you enjoy a $50 wine as much as you enjoy a $125 wine?

I was visiting a wine retailer recently. Poking around “the back room” I realize what a great place to shop for wine–and maybe a great place to sell our wine.  I chatted with the very knowledgeable salesman, picking up a bottle here and there of wines in my category, and wines my winemaking consultant is producing (Seven Stones, proudly displayed on top shelf).  This shop offers several interesting and excellent cabernet francs from Napa Valley –Detert, Trespass–in fact, those were two I missed in our tasting and I bought one to try.  Most of the wines in the backroom were $45 and over.  Mostly over.

The salesman was very interested in the Virage blend, welcomed me to come back with wine to pour for their buyers.  He was intrigued by cool-climate cabernet franc as he lamented that good Napa cabernet francs “are always so big.”  Well, my readers already know: upvalley, if you want ripe seeds/skins/tannins along in your fruit, what happens when you wait for “phenolic” ripeness in a hot place?  Yup, big sugar, big alcohol.

The idea of ripeness from a temperate climate over longer hangtime lit his interest.  Clearly, he could tell our story, and he valued our focus on this subtle nuance of planting the right grape in the right place.

All good, then I mentioned the price target (OK, I want to pull this off at $45-$55, to offer a great wine at a great price, a price that lets you buy a case and enjoy how the wine evolves over time), and he looked disappointed and perplexed.  “That’s your lower-priced wine then?”  he asked.  “No, we’re focused on just the one wine, we’ll have a rose in the Spring, but that’s our one red blend.”

It took about an hour for me to realize he must have assumed–before I opened my big mouth–the price would be higher.  Note to self:  present story, pour wine, ask THEM what price they suggest!!  The details of our story suggest higher pricing.  The wine is fantastic.  It requires “hand-selling.”  And most people who do my job probably want to earn more for it 🙂

Do great, educated, service-oriented retailers prefer to sell higher-priced wines?  Hand-sold wines with place-specific stories need a certain return on the time invested.  I understand.  This is making me nervous.  Our wine is a hand-made, fine wine shepharded by talented people and we’re very serious and knowledgeable and manage very good vineyard sources, so why is the wine not priced higher…?  Because we’re new, and we’re primarily sold direct-to-consumer and we’re implementing pretty efficient systems, and we’re not stuck with long-term grape contracts from the heyday of high real estate and high grape cost.  If I had launched a few years ago, this wine might have been twice the cost.

I keep hearing $60 is the new $100.  And that consumers now get it that price does not always equate to quality, or value.  I’ve seen the dramatic discounting on the higher-priced wines.  And I hear consumers have “traded down,” and to their surprise they discovered great sub $100 wines and appreciate high quality AND good value.

By the way, it’s not all a decision of how much profit to make.  Some high-priced wines have extremely high cost for good reason.  For example, take berry-sorting.  The cost of crushing and fermenting for Virage Napa Valley is probably half that of a Seven Stones (just for example, a high-cost wine that has high cost inputs for real) with ten-twelve people hand sorting, slowly, every single berry before they are juiced.  I’m naive perhaps but also fundamentally opposed to berry sorting.  So that’s one reason my cost is lower.  Plus I’ve made a big huge bet that today’s powerful consumer voices–with internet access via wine chat groups and other social media–will spread the word without me having to spend a fortune on marketing.  No helicopters bringing in the critics for lunch catered by the French Laundry here…

Which reminds me, I’m always open to volunteers who want to be part of the grape sorting that we will do.  We will remove leaves and clusters with raisins, etc. as the fruit is conveyed to the hopper, and this will be a friends and family effort, but not as intense–or expensive–as individual berry sorting.  I volunteered to do this for many years –at Quintessa, at Peju, and it is FUN (so long as you don’t have to do it all day); you get sticky red arms, meet great people and I buy you lunch.  What’s not to like!  You just have to make your way to Napa Valley on relatively short notice.  On or about October 15.

Frankly, I don’t want to sell a $90 wine, but my life would be easier if I did.  I would have a budget for all sorts of things I don’t have now.  But would you really appreciate that?  The real question:  would you be more intrigued, slow down and pay more attention, and enjoy the wine more?  I’m working hard to make the wine “affordable more often” rather than a rare, coveted, sealed treasure.  It’s a food wine, throw a dinner party with this wine, share it with friends, buy a case every year, cellar it and enjoy it’s evolution over time.  Taste it throughout the year and get into it as I have myself over the past year it’s been in the bottle.  This is a wine for a long-term relationship; it constantly evolves.  No fun to just have one bottle.

But I sure hope I’m not spoiling your pleasure by setting the price too low?




About Emily Richer

Investment banker turned right banker.
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2 Responses to Price of pleasure…

  1. A lot of interesting material to ponder. For one, I think Napa has its own bubble. In less affluent or more enologically diverse areas, $45 would be seen very differently. People get used to an average wine costing $50, and pretty soon they think nothing under $50 can be excellent. Seems like a classic case of hedonic adaptation. Especially when one is close to a wine region, one’s idea of pricing and quality tends to get calibrated to the local price scale and style because outside wines do not penetrate the market as easily.

    What if you made a special super cuvee in 200% new oak, but made only several barrels of it? Then you could say you have a $150 wine. Yet in reality you just have 50 or 75 cases of it and really it’s just there to talk about and pour!

    An in-the-business fellow in Santa Barbara talked to me once about working at Dierberg Winery, which seems to be aiming for a Napa style estate with wine caves and $50-$100 bottle pricing. He said their top Cabernet is sorted berry by berry, but remarked that he often enjoyed the lower tier wines equally if not more. He said something along the lines of the MOG adding some character–after all, there’s only so much one can add to wine. Obviously no one wants to be putting green, moldy, raisined or otherwise rotten fruit in. But perhaps there’s a trade off for purity in terms of vineyard-borne complexity. As a stylistic choice surely it offers a specific expression. I’m sure there’s a marketing appeal as well since it sounds ultra-luxurious. I just wonder if the added cost is worth it for what primarily amounts to a stylistic difference.

  2. Emily says:

    I just read the Decanter article on Thierry Manoncourt, the long-captain of Chateau Figeac in St. Emilion, who died last week at 92. The article notes his commitment to quality and to his community, and adds,

    “It was a disappointment to him in recent years that he failed to win promotion of Figeac to Premier Grand Cru Classé (A), alongside Ausone and Cheval Blanc.

    His petition was rejected not on grounds of quality but of price, and he felt acutely the irony that Figeac was penalized for its lack of greed.”

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