MW Topic of the Week - vineyard management and wine price points

Hi guys!

After a brief holiday hiatus, Sarah Bray, , and I are back with our weekly study topics.

Today, I am continuing to chip away at Paper 1. 

I'd love for everyone to consider the following question, taken from the 2018 exam:

"Many wine regions can produce wines at a wide range of price points. Referencing at least two of such regions, compare and contrast methods of managing vineyards for high-priced wines and low-priced wines."

Looking forward to your thoughts!

Best,

Kelli

  • Hi Kelli, thanks for the post. I think the easiest way to address the question, at least for one of the examples, is to look at regions that produce vastly different styles of wines. Piesporter Michelsberg vs Goldtropchen Beerenauslese or Sauternes vs Entre-deux-Mers. I emailed a large producer in Chile that produces many quality tiers of wines to ask about their vineyard practices. I'll share their response, if they agree to it. 

  • Thank you, that is excellent.

  • The question within the question, it seems, is "what is the cost of each vineyard practice?" Quality is not mentioned in the question, only high-cost and low-cost. I have heard some winemakers say that the ton cost should at least equal the dollars/bottle cost at a ratio of 100:1. That is, an $8000/ton Pinot Noir should be able to command $80/bottle.

  • We actually workshopped this question in Adelaide. 

    There are different considerations one must take into account when managing vineyards for the production of high versus low priced wines, with some similarities and some differences in techniques and regulations in various regions around the globe. This essay will discuss the range of viticultural decisions that are made with the end price of the wine in mind. 

    David Lemere MW noted that the examiner would be looking for 5-7 different methods to be addressed, which could extend to: harvesting, irrigation, pruning, disease control, nutrition, weed management, vine training, and yield regulation. Also noted, this question is about management, so vine age/planting/vineyard establishment are all outside of the scope.

    A good contrast would be Europe and somewhere else given that there are yield limits in the OW – costs and inputs matter so much more, versus Australia (where we were), where you can push yields up. Be very specific and drill down to specific areas. Some other considerations may be to bring in examples for different styles of wines (e.g. one region sparkling, one region red).

    For low-priced wines, the primary consideration in vineyard management is reducing costs. Increasing cropping levels and reducing labor costs are the most important factors. Most viticulturalists growing grapes for low-cost wines will minimize risk. For high-priced wines, the main motivation is maximizing quality, within reason of one’s budget.

    I'll dig through notes and see what other specific examples I have, but noting hard costs here would be important.

  • Good reminder! I went to look up the cahier des charges for Bourgogne and Corton Charlemagne for an example. For Bourgogne Blanc the maximum yield is 11,000kg/ha or 4.9 T/acre. For Corton-Charlemagne the maximum yield is 9500kg/ha or 4.0 T/ha.

    Most viticulturalists growing grapes for low-cost wines will minimize risk. For high-priced wines, the main motivation is maximizing quality, within reason of one’s budget.

    I like the idea of including this in an introductory paragraph. I think it frames things and shows an understanding of the vineyard manager mindset.

  • At least for California, generally speaking high priced vineyards contributing to high priced wines will be managed in a more "hands on" manner requiring more manual labor to thin fruit, shoot thin, or manage weeds. Usually requiring a single pass through the vineyard for each specific job with a crew of people. Sometimes these jobs can be consolidated but other times it may require additional passes for suckering or fruit thinning. In the low cost world the use of machinery has the potential to reduce the cost with a single pass of a tractor and specially mechanized equipment. In many growing regions (especially California) the crop load is first decided by nature so the decision to reduce crop or utilize manual labor is likely related to quality. 

  • I have heard the same but really only in the context of American wine. The supposition there is that fruit cost is the biggest variable, and that production/labor/packaging costs are otherwise, more or less, static across price points. Obviously, that's a massive simplification. I wonder if that 100:1 ratio applies in Europe or elsewhere?

  • I think it is worth pointing out, and will add depth to any discussion, that many (not all) high end California producers are re-thinking the punishingly low yields that marked the luscious and highly-priced wines of the early 2000s. Some are increasing yields from 2 tons/acre to 4 tons/acre as a way to increase the natural acidity and slow sugar accumulation. Others are doing it to save on labor as some vineyards naturally balance themselves at around 4 tons/acre. And others are doing it as a response to climate change.