Have you ever wondered why vintage wines are so expensive? The reason (apart from such factors as transport and custom fees for imported wines) is simple: The law of supply and demand ensures that prices will rise when many people want a scarce commodity. That's why top vintages can cost up to $3,000 a bottle.
Sometimes this demand reflects simple trend-following: If rappers tout the virtues of a particular champagne, its price may soar even if its taste is earthbound. But more often, what makes big spenders open their wallets is a wine that's incredibly good, complex and rich, a treat for nose and palate alike. Unfortunately for the low-budget shopper, wines of that caliber reflect growing and vinification methods that can be pretty expensive.
For instance, the best vineyards are usually harvested by hand -- and sometimes at night. This bumps up wage costs because grapes must be picked up at the same time and can't be stored while waiting for the whole vineyard to be harvested.
Also, late harvests can be risky: a sudden hailstorm can destroy a year's harvest in less than an an hour. That's why a lot of winemakers are equipped with professional weather stations, to be able to harvest immediately if a storm's on the way. Installing those instruments and having farmhands ready to work have a price, and it's not cheap. Moreover, several years of aging means a longer-than-usual wait for the winemaker to realize a profit.
Besides, every wine has its own history, which usually is reflected in its price.
Petrus, for instance, is one of the most expensive wines in the world, but that hasn't always been the case. The estate lies in the Pomerol region, within the so-called "Right Bank" Bordeaux region a "second choice" area in Bordeaux for a long time -- and wines from Pomerol used to be cheaper than those produced elsewhere in Bordeaux, such as in Médoc.
Petrus started gaining its reputation after Madame Loubat became the owner of the cellar and committed winemaking and distribution to Jean-Pierre Moueix in the 1940s. They understood that Petrus had to match wines from Médoc in price in order to communicate it was of equal value. So the first relevant price increase was done.
After World War II, the Petrus management understood that competitors in France were too strong and renowned, so it started to expand the label's market in other European countries, Britain and the United States. And when, in the Sixties, President John Kennedy said that Petrus was his favorite wine, the label became a status symbol among well-off Americans. And the price rose again.
When, in the Eighties, one of the most influential wine writers, Robert Parker, glorified Petrus and the wines produced in Pomerol, prices of all wines from the region increased. But Petrus' price doesn't depend on marketing strategies, trends and critics' praise only. It's a top-quality wine, produced in small quantities to extremely high standards: If it's not good enough, it's not bottled under the name of Petrus and it simply skips one vintage. Harvest is made by hand-picking berries one by one, to remove stems. In 1987, helicopters were employed to help surplus moisture evaporate from the berries.
Something similar, although condensed into four decades, happened withBordeaux-style wines produced by the Harlan Estate in Napa Valley. When H. William Harlan purchased the land for his own vineyards, he intended to produce a top-quality wine. Ideal climate, exposures and declivities, together with high production standards and the knowledge of one of the best enologists in the world, made the gross work; then, popular wine critics like Parker and Jancis Robinson did the rest, by praising Harlan for his wine and creating enthusiasm for it.