Wine Isn’t Necessary

A letter to the editor in today’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Section hits on a conversation that comes up, oh, now and again: consumer distress over irrationally high prices of wine.

This particular complaint comes from Alan in Berkeley. In response to an earlier article’s suggestion that one should just take the plunge when it comes to older California Cabs, Alan describes the experience as "taking a bath."

He points to the 1974 Heitz "Martha’s Vineyard" as perfect example of the irrational pricing of wine. He bought his bottle in 1978 for $18. Had this wine appreciated in value with inflation, the current bottling (1999) should cost $52. Well it doesn’t. To get your hands on the 1999 Martha’s you have to spend $120.

How to explain this? Alan has some ideas:

"So what we’re left with is the effect of two different sorts of "inflation" — the inflated self-worth of the over-wealthy winery founders who concluded their first-release Napa Cabs could be "priced to ego" rather than to market, and the inflated hype at the consumer end that convinces too many that higher price equals higher value.

I’d be sympathetic to Alan’s distress if wine were something we needed to heat our homes or run our cars or even if it were a necessary ingredient in bread. But it’s not. Wine is a product that is purely a luxury, like Çoca Cola on the low end and a Picasso on the high end. There really is no reason to buy wine except for pleasure.

And just to make something clear, all wines sell out their "market price", which, unfortunately, is often too high for the likes of Alan, myself and others to afford. That brand new wine, all 250 cases, priced at $150 is perfectly priced if it sells out by the time the next vintage is released. And if it doesn’t, it will be "re-priced" to move.

There really is nothing obscene, unfair, or inflated about wine prices. The complaints about the high prices of wine are generated out of frustration that the complainer’s income doesn’t allow purchase of the wines.

Posted In: Culture and Wine


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