A Wine Epiphany


When my brother was last over from Scotland we were out tasting Cabernet at 10 in the morning and he said, “You do realize that if I did this at home I’d have a problem, but here it means your sophisticated…” Elsewhere on his visit he asked me if the Sauvignon Blanc I was pouring was expensive. I said it wasn’t, “…only $20.” He then asked me to name one time in Scotland that I had ever spent the equivalent of $20 on any wine from any retail store, anywhere. I couldn’t think of a single occasion. In fact, in many stores there wasn’t a bottle of wine that price to be found on the shelves.

We become somewhat inured to the pricing of the product that we are surrounded by in Wine Country and think that a $35 Cabernet Sauvignon is “cheap.” So much of our wine value is based on “over the shoulder pricing.” This means an owner looks at his or her peers, who they feel they match in stature, then price their wine at the same level. What the customer may or may not think about the price is often not the primary driver of the decision. I wish I knew if we are in a bubble of our own ever-expanding optimism, or all this is founded on a long-term bedrock of customer trust in our value proposition. I was told that technically anything over $20 in wine is deemed “luxury.” Whether it’s a handbag, pair of shoes, car or watch – there comes a point in the price ascendancy where you are paying for the comfort of perceived status. That’s just a fact. If we are not delusional about it, then sign up for that allocation.
On the subject of perceived, we had an interesting blind tasting recently which highlighted, among other things, that it is not physically possible for a $225 bottle of wine to taste 3 times as good as a well made $75 bottle of wine. This seems obvious but is often overlooked. The buyer has to be deriving some pleasure from knowing the cost, as well as the many other attributes of the wine. 

For those of us who work in the business it is an irony that we often can’t afford to buy the things that we laud, at the prices we offer them. This can inhibit sales for those on the tasting room front lines. It is hard for them to imagine spending that amount of money on something that seems so decadent. On a recent incognito evaluation, a winery employee explained to me the range of wine prices they offered, so I would not “be blindsided.” This was a mistake. It revealed the staff member’s own discomfort about the prices and assumed that I might have something to be blindsided about.

What rescued me years ago from my personal quandary about our pricing, was a morning meeting with the GM of a very well-known Napa Valley resort. He was asked by another attendee what the average spend of a guest couple was. After two nights accommodation, breakfasts, one meal in the restaurant, incidentals, and one spa visit he estimated $2,500. This was an epiphany. None of these things had any durability. None of them could be treasured, be brought out from a cupboard or cellar to invigorate a memory, to be revisited potentially over two decades or more. That money was flushed away in more ways than one. On the other hand, with just one case of “expensive” Cabernet Sauvignon we could provide 12 potentially unique and memorable moments. Reliving their journey, with a lot of gentle coveting and reminiscing in between. This doesn’t negate the ever-present question of value and price between wines. But if someone is spending that kind of money on their stay, then we should have absolutely no problem in communicating to our tasting room staff what a tremendous value that case of $125 Cabernet Sauvignon is compared to their other Wine Country experiences. 

VINFABULA – “Improve your world with a fresh perspective story audit of your business. Then profit from selecting, aligning, and telling the right stories, powerfully. colin@vinfabula.com