Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is Colorado wine really too expensive?

Last year, a Westword blogger posted about why Colorado wine still sucks. One of her statements was that Colorado wine is too expensive. Yet in her next statement about marketing issues (with which I agree), she picked the winery with the most expensive bottles as getting it. A few weeks ago, Wine Spectator posted a blog about Long Island wines being expensive relative to other wine regions. The attack on the price of regional wines seems to a common theme whenever someone is trying to rationalize why these wines aren't as popular as mass-produced wines. The one thing I don't get is how people can compare boutique wineries with industrial wine factories. Colorado wineries are not going to be able to produce hundreds of thousands of cases of $6 wine with cute animals on the label, but compared to Napa Valley and Walla Walla, Colorado produces some reasonably priced wine. I can count on one hand the number of bottles of Colorado wine that sell for over $50. Sure, across the board the quality may not be equivalent, but neither is the product when you compare Colorado to California's Central Valley or Australia's Riverina and Riverland regions. So, is Colorado wine really too expensive?

When Denver hosted the Drink Local Wine Conference in April, over 40 wine writers and bloggers from around the country were introduced to Colorado wine. One of the statements I heard over and over from some of the east coast writers (this would include Joe Roberts, Dezel Quillen and David Falchek) was that Colorado wine offered considerable value. They were surprised that many of the Colorado wines they tried were priced below $25. They said that comparable Virginia or Pennsylvania wines would likely be in the $30-$40 range.

So what's the deal? Are Colorado wines expensive or good values? A 2005 economic impact study conducted by Colorado State University reported that the average price of a bottle of Colorado wine was $12.86. Does that sound overpriced to you? When you compare that number to the average price of all wine (including all the boxes and jugs) of wine sold in the U.S., which happens to be somewhere around $6.14 per 750 mL, then sure it is about double. But really, is $13 dollars to spend on handcrafted wine with personality?

Yes, those CSU numbers might be a bit dated. So, I did a quick (but less rigorous) analysis of four wineries that can easily be found in the Denver market. I determined the average bottle price by weighting the cost of a wine by its production size. The results shows that Bonacquisti Wine Company, Boulder Creek Winery, Bookcliff Vineyards and Canyon Wind Cellars combine to produce just over 12,000 cases per year (about 10% of the state's entire production) and the average price per bottle was $17.65. The most expensive wine was Canyon Wind Cellars' IV ($100) and the least expensive were Bookcliff's Friday's Folly and Lucky Twenty ($9.99). Only one other wine (Boulder Creek's Consensus at $36) cost more than $26.

Now, I'm not saying that wines that cost $20-$25 are cheap, but the proclamations claiming that Colorado wines are too expensive for their own good is a bit baseless. Either way you look at it, the average price of a bottle of Colorado wine is somewhere around $15. I would definitely like to see more sub $10 wines from Colorado. I think that price range would open a whole new market segment to the local industry. But to claim that Colorado wineries can't sell wine in the $20-$50 range is flat out absurd. Case in point: The Infinite Monkey Theorem. This trendy urban winery is probably the most well-known local winery in state, and out. Interestingly, TIMT also probably has the most expensive lineup of wines across the board. TIMT has priced all of their wines between $20 and $50. Even the $7 250-mL canned wines come to $21 per 750 mL. I don't think TIMT has any problem selling their wine at those price points. Ben Parsons has made claims that he wants to increase production from their current 10,000 cases to 200,000 cases in the next 5 years. They're not doing that by selling $6 bottles of wine. To achieve that goal, they recently moved to a brand new, larger facility at 32nd and Larimer in the hip River North arts district in north Denver. They are probably the most widely distributed Colorado wine in the state and on more restaurant wine lists than any other winery. So don't tell me that Colorado wines are too expensive.

I won't disagree that we do need more quality Colorado wine at around $10 per bottle. Very few wineries are doing this consistently. Some of my favorite inexpensive Colorado wines are Canyon Wind's 47-Ten series. This introductory lineup of simple blends all sell for under $13. The rose recently won best of show at the NextGen Wine Competition in California. I recently had the 2009 47-Ten Red. Now, I'm not going to lie and tell you it was a knock out wine, but it is easily as good as anything from California for around $11-$13.

2009 Canyon Wind Cellars, 47-Ten Red

This blend of 45% cabernet sauvignon, 22% tempranillo, 12% merlot, 12% syrah, 7% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. Is a fun and approachable introduction to Colorado wines. The unique blend offers aromas of cherries, chocolate and a hint of olive. Along with more complexity than the price tag would suggest, there is nice structure with black cherry, blackberry and tobacco flavors. There is a hint of greenness on the palate, but overall it is a very pleasant wine. You're not going to find too many estate-grown, single-vineyard wines that beat this one on price. And it is definitely better than Yellowtail or Apothic. 13.8% abv Sample $13. Good

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