The publisher of James Halliday’s Wine Companion Magazine recently approached me to include my winery in the publication. I was asked to provide details of my flagship wine. I thought…“Flagship wine! Do I have a flagship wine? Well, yes I suppose that would be my Raj’s Pick”. I should have thought about it before, but I hadn’t. I make Raj’s Pick out of love and passion for winemaking and out of respect for the fruit from my vineyard. When I see a batch of grapes which show some really outstanding characteristics I pull them aside. This is what having a tiny winery and single vineyard is all about. I make this wine differently to my Red Art Shiraz, and I only make 30 cases of it. When I finally release it for sale the cost of the finished product is certainly much higher. The wine reflects the characteristics specific to my vineyard. It wasn’t made because of a desire to have a flagship wine or to aspire to icon status.
This got me thinking about ‘icon wines’ and the unbelievable prices that some are being sold for. An icon is an important symbol of something. So these ‘icon wines’, I guess, are seen (or at least portrayed) as wines that represent the best in the history of world winemaking.
What makes a wine succeed with a high price tag? Imagine working for a winery and being asked to make a $300 bottle of wine. Well, is it really a $60-$100 bottle of wine, but with a $300 price tag? Obviously this varies depending on the wine in question. Certainly, as the quality of a product goes up, the price does too. But the high end priced wines go beyond that. It is now a luxury good. Releasing a new wine at $300 is a marketing strategy that instantly conveys a perceived level of quality and status. Even if hardly any bottles are sold, the publicity surrounding this wine has a positive impact on the perceived quality of the lower priced wines within the winery’s portfolio.
When a consumer buys a bottle of wine for $300 do they get three times the satisfaction from that wine compared to a $100 bottle? Well, maybe they do. If you’ve bought that bottle of wine, before you even open it you are already expecting to enjoy it and you have high expectations of enjoying it a lot! Perhaps you’ve met the winemaker or have great respect for the winery. You know that it is from a great region, a variety you love and a strong vintage. Even if you didn’t know all of that, you expect high quality because of the high price. So before you have even opened the wine you have pretty well decided that you are going to really like it. Of course, it’s a special, exclusive bottle of wine, so you share it with good friends or family and with your favourite food. So you drink the wine…..and it is good. Yummy wine + your favourite food + awesome company = a great experience, so perhaps you are happy spending that $300.
Then there is the wine that sells for thousands of dollars, bought as a collectable item and an investment. Often these wines are very old and sometimes no longer drinkable. In this case the product no longer serves its purpose (i.e. to drink), but continues to significantly increase value. I suppose it is like an antique chair that you can no longer sit on, or a painting that has damage from age. However, with these items the quality and condition can be easily assessed. This can’t be done with a bottle of wine, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
Among the most respected and expensive wines in the world are the wines from Domaine De La Romanee-Conti (Burgundy). They produce no more than 10,000 cases, and there is no opportunity to increase. Its reputation and scarcity has led to the high price. On the weekend (23/11/13) one dozen of the 1978 vintage sold for US$474,000 at a Christi’s auction in Hong Kong.
Another high priced wine is Henri Jayer; another Burgundy legend. These wines are also receiving massively high prices at auction houses. You can get a bottle of Henri Jayer 1990 for just $8875.20 from Fine & Rare wine UK. At least it should definitely still be drinkable!
The super expensive, luxury wines do show some respect to the wine industry. I’m never going to spend that on a bottle so the exact price doesn’t bother me too much. But has it caused other wine that should be more comfortably placed in the $50-$200 price bracket to be priced well beyond that?
Now back to Raj’s Pick! Well, it’s definitely scarce at only 30 dozen made per vintage. The vineyard size cannot be increased and it is only made in the best vintages (so far 2006, 2008, 2012 & 2013). Of course it is a wine to share with your best friends or family, along with wonderful food. So perhaps you would be happy paying $300 for it! But luckily you don’t have to. You can have that experience for $57 a bottle.