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High Flyers

Why do some wines cost more than others? We investigate…

By Fresh Living

It’s not uncommon for most people to opt for something expensive because they think it’s of a better quality. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of avoiding a wine if the price is too reasonable on shelf. On the other side of the coin, there’s the catch of buying a premium wine only to find that it’s not suited to your palate.

Pricing particular

So why do certain varietals cost more than others? Various factors come into play. Grapes are often bought from other vineyards for added flavour or because certain varietals don’t grow well in that specific vineyard block. Sometimes they have to be trucked in (for example from Robertson to Stellenbosch), and there’s transport cost involved. There’s also the expense of planting or buying grapes – in some cases it’s more affordable for producers to buy grapes than to plant the vines themselves. Cellars can pay more for Chardonnay grapes than they’re willing to for Sauvignon Blanc, for example, thus affecting the price of the wines. Cellar practices also have an influence on price. Wine aged in expensive French oak barrels will cost more than wine which is more cost-effectively aged using wood chips.

Demand for a varietal can play a part in a wine’s pricing too. In SA, there are many Sauvignon Blancs and Chenins available because these wines are widely made here, produced on a large scale and very popular. Lesser-known varieties can be a bit more pricey because small quantities are made and they aren’t as prevalent – hard-to-find Viognier, for example – while grapes that are tricky to grow or work with ultimately result in more expensive wines.

Winemaker and one of the founders of the Cape Winemakers Guild Peter Finlayson gives more insight into the many factors that add to the production expenses. The Pinot Noir grapes, for instance, require extra care in the vineyard before the winemaking process even begins. “Firstly, Pinot only offers top-quality red wines under limited cropping levels (only carefully selected grapes are used in the final wine), so five weeks before vintage, we do a green harvest and throw off any ‘extra’ grapes from the vines,” he says. “Pinot Noir is also a grape that’s susceptible to spoilage, and some vintages are wet, which causes undue loss. There’s an extra expense of supplying new oak barrels for every vintage. These barrels are bought at import prices and add significantly to the cost.”

Relying on the elements can also play a huge part in the pricing. “Some vintages are damaged by hail or excessive rain,” Finlayson explains.

Also to be taken into consideration, says Finlayson, is the fact that a vineyard needs to be replaced every 20 years, which means a five-year turnaround or 20% downtime. “Just imagine a hotel which needs to relinquish 20% of its rooms at any one time for renovation!” Smaller volumes, and slower bottling and labelling speed (because of the human labour required) also increase the retail price.

Buying local is always beneficial (to your pocket, the farmers and the economy), so we suggest opting for varietals that grow easily in our climate. You’ll find a wider range to pick from at Pick n Pay stores, home of South African wine. It’s good to remember that we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to wine in South Africa, and if we don’t want to spend more than R110 on a bottle, we don’t have to.

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