? It’s all about real estate: The Women for Wine Sense Napa Sonoma website (now there’s a URL) breaks down the price of a bottle of California cabernet sauvignon, and the cost of land makes up much of the difference between cheap and expensive. “Everything else being equal, Cabernet from the Stag ?s Leap AVA costs more than Cabernet from Lodi.” This is something that can’t be harped on enough, and is a key part of the cheap wine book. The other question the article poses: “Is the $50 wine really over 200% better than the $15 bottle or are you just paying to finance the winery ?s fancy tasting room?” Heavens, doesn’t the author know it’s not polite to ask those things in California?
? Another record harvest? There’s good news and bad news for wine prices, courtesy of Rob McMillan at Silicon Valley Bank, perhaps the world’s leading authority on the subject. Despite a record drought, California is on track for another huge harvest in 2014, which will almost certainly lower grape prices. But McMillan isn’t sure that will translate into lower wine prices, given the price increases producers haven’t taken over the past couple of years. The 2014 vintage may be about restoring margins, which have suffered since 2008 and the beginning of the recession. If that happens, then — as one astute blog visitor pointed out earlier this year — the hunt for great cheap wine, as opposed to just cheap wine, will become even harder next year.
? Wine writing’s Cold War: Those of you too young to remember the collapse of the Soviet Union might be a little confused by this interview with Chateau Montelena’s Bo Barrett (who apparently was the only person happy with the casting for the movie “Bottle Shock”). In it, he compares the current feud between the old Winestream Media, like Robert Parker, and the new Winestream Media, like Jon Bonne, to the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviets, which lasted some 40 years. It’s an interesting take, and one I hadn’t considered: “You ?re either with the Soviet Union or you ?re with the USA and NATO. What happen is as that broke down you have this global anarchy, and that ?s what I see with the Internet has created this democracy where people are voting with their feet, and the freedom to choose their own wines and different styles of wines has never been better.” Who knew we’d ever see NATO, the military alliance that includes the U.S. and western Europe, mentioned in a wine story?
You don’t need to be an expert — or to consult an expert — to figure out what wine prices will do in 2014. Just spend a couple of extra minutes at the grocery or liquor store the next time you’re there. If you see a fair number of previous vintage wines, and you almost certainly will, then you’ll know that wine prices in 2014 aren’t going anywhere.
There is a titter of joy running through the California wine business as the 2011 harvest ends, and it's not because the quality of the harvest is particularly good. It's because, for the first time in several years, California growers are picking fewer grapes — by some estimates, as much as 10 percent less than last year.
This means that grape prices are expected to go up, which means that wine prices are expected to go up. Which means, after several years of flat and even decreasing wine prices, growers and producers see dollar signs on the horizon.
? Patty Bogle dies: Bogle, the matriarch of $10 wine powerhouse Bogle Vineyards, has died. She was 59. Patty Bogle and her late husband, Chris, built Bogle Vineyards from 18 acres of grapes into one of the best inexpensive wine producers in the world. The company ships more than 1.2 million cases of wine annually, and Wine Business Monthly ranked Bogle as the country's 14th-largest winery. She was diagnosed in 2007 with leukemia, which eventually killed her. She will be much missed by those of us who appreciate cheap wine.
? Grape prices below break-even? A followup to last week's item about the 2010 grape harvest and low grape prices: California producers say that although grape prices strengthened in 2010 from 2009, 2010 was not a good year and that many of the region ?s growers still face below break-even, especially those with expired contracts or grapes that aren't chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon. One analyst says he doesn't expect to see grape prices rebound until the 2012 harvest. Which means at least another two years of consumer-friendly wine prices.
? Champagne sales still flat: The recession hasn't ended for the champagne business, where sales are still 12 1/2 percent behind their 2007 peak and industry officials says they're still worried about the business and its immediate future. On the other hand, reports the just-drinks.com Web site, some producers may be finagling sales figures to prevent the industry officials from releasing excess inventory to the public, which would depress prices. The Wine Curmudgeon, of course, has a solution for champagne, which is too often overpriced. Stop acting like OPEC and let the market determine what your product is worth.