Artisan Vignerons – In Defense of Prices
by Anthony Lynch
We take pride in the bargains in our portfolio, but from time to time we cannot resist buying wines that some people would deem expensive. Our intention is not to gouge or cheat; in fact, we regret that something like wine, a product of the earth whose purpose is to unify and provide indiscriminate pleasure to all regardless of creed, color, and class, can be inaccessible by virtue of price or rarity. But rest assured that in most cases, the vigneron in question is not living a glamorous lifestyle with fancy cars and diamond rings.
Certain wines, like grand cru Burgundies and classified Bordeaux growths, are expected to demand a very high price—after all, these have long been considered to be among the most prestigious bottles in the world. Given that vineyard land for grand cru Burgundy sells for almost $2 million per acre, the price tag on these wines might begin to make sense. But what is the justification for the steep cost of wines from places where the cost of land is more humane, such as the Languedoc, Veneto, or Corsica? Or even Bandol, where a prized terroir is selling for about $65,000 per acre?
In rural areas of France and Italy, many vignerons live entirely off of a very modestly sized plot of land—some as little as two hectares (five acres). Those with whom we have chosen to collaborate are fully committed to crafting the best wine possible, which comes with its share of economic sacrifices. They eschew chemical products in the vineyard in favor of full-time salaried workers. A hired team picks grapes over the course of weeks instead of the violent, albeit speedy, job of a mechanical harvester. The search for complexity and concentration often results in very low yields—sometimes from ancient, unproductive vines—so while the cost of land may not be as high as in Burgundy, the resulting volumes produced are barely sufficient to support a family.
© Gail Skoff
Working such small plots of land completely by hand entails high costs of production, so artisanal vignerons must charge what they need in order to get by. These micro-productions represent their entire livelihood, and you can bet they are not living large: many resort to canning their own food and curing meats for cost-effective (and delicious) solutions to supporting their family through a given year. While it pains us to know that the shelf price of such wines makes them out of reach for numerous consumers, we take comfort in knowing a dedicated and honest farmer is subsisting off his or her labor. Just as we have come to expect to pay more for top-quality organic farmers’ market produce, these hand-crafted, sustainably farmed wines from small-scale artisans also demand a premium. We hope you keep this in mind the next time you are browsing our store shelves.