Friday, August 17, 2012

A midsummer evaluation of the Grape Life in Tuscany

Growing grapes is certainly a noble pursuit which I respect in every way. Now, it's true that we grow a small vineyard ourselves, but it's a part-time occupation, a hobby-passion, and hardly something that we will rely on economically. So we can be quite cool about it. But every year at about this time my thoughts go out to the many vintners that we know and work with. Will they have a good harvest and will they be able to make great wines for us in the future?
In the wine school the other day a young Belgian guy asked me a tricky question - he was convinced that it could by no means cost more than 2 euros to produce a wine. I would say that's a bit too low, but there is something about it. How come wines that come from classified vineyards in Bordeaux, Napa and certain areas in Tuscany cost much much more than the usual 5-10 euro which is what most people are willing to spend on a bottle of fermented grape juice?
Firstly the cost of land is to be considered. In Montalcino a production ready hectare of vineyard can cost half a million euro. The maximum yield is 7 tons per hectare, translating to about 7000 bottles per hectare, which furthermore has to age almost 5 years in the winery before it can be sold. Not calculating cellar, equipment (tractors, barrels, bottling, etc), work force (inclusive hot-shot wine maker if you have one), weather risks (drought, hail, mold, frost), deer and wild boars who will have a party in your vineyard if they can access. Then you've got marketing of your product, which you can do by yourself if you produce less than 1500 bottles like we do, but if you add a zero or two to this number you'll need agents, distributors and importers who all will want to take a piece of the pie. 
Wine could cost less than 2 euros to produce if you don't have all these variables to consider and you would be making a no name table wine, but in any higher quality wine region the price depends on many many factors.
So the fundamental question probably is if a wine is better tasting if it is expensive? Well, of course, taste is relative to the taster, however, the answer in most cases is yes - up until a certain level. When the price succeeds the 45-50 euro a bottle you are no longer paying for cost of production (inclusive of all of the above in the most important regions), you are starting to pay for other factors such as supply and demand, high points given by certain wine critics that if high influence supply and demand. Value can be pumped up by reputation or name as well (just think of Sassicaia, Tua Rita, Soldera, Trinoro amongst Tuscan wines, or the first growths of Bordeaux). Myth of great vintages also can contribute to higher prices, or if a wine has been aged by the vendor...

2012 is a dry year in Tuscany - at least thus far. We had almost no rain-reserve from the winter, and very little rain during the season. Certain areas are drying out, others are doing fine. We were visiting in Southern Tuscany last week where the situation generally didn't look too good. We were told that a winery was watering a vineyard manually otherwise they would fear not harvesting (irrigation is not common in Tuscany because water is expensive and not allowed for regulated wines). Our vineyard close to Casole d'Elsa is doing fine, but it's a 45 year-old vineyard with deep roots. We're lucky. In the weekend Pierre and Dante are going to fence the vineyard against wild boar midnight parties at our loss. I think our new slogan might be "Eat Boar - Save a Vintner"! No, ok a bit too vendicative maybe. I'll keep you posted on the progress in Casa Goccianera. Until then "Smile - Life is Grape"! 


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