Archive for August, 2011

Big BC Wineries Reducing Prices – But Do They See the Real Problem?

August 30, 2011

Interesting column on the front page of the Vancouver Sun Business Section today regarding wine pricing. In a nutshell, it says that some of BC’s largest wineries — CedarCreek, Jackson Triggs, etc. — have discovered that wine drinkers are moving to spend less money on wine, so they are going to adjust the price or number of offerings to address that.

Now, I don’t have access to whatever research they have, so can’t comment on the so-called reason for their action. But in reading the piece, it seems to me that the story — and perhaps the industry — is missing a couple of key points:

1. Overall pricing has gotten out of hand regardless of consumer reaction

In my opinion, over 90% of BC wines are overpriced, both at the high end (look at all the $40+ offerings) and the low end (when was the last time you saw a ‘non-bulk’ BC wine that was any good for under $14 or $15?). Even accepting the arguments around the price of Okanagan real estate (and how that translates to wine prices) and marketing to the American tourist, this is ridiculous. Yes, there are a small number of the smaller wineries that provide value at both ends of the price spectrum (La Frenz, Kettle Valley, Blue Mountain, Nichol in the Okanagan; Averill Creek on the Island; and Mt. Lehman, and Vista d’Oro and in the Fraser Valley lead my list). But most are, frankly, selling wine way above what it is worth.

2. What happened to pricing based on quality?

Another point is that, particularly at the big wineries — Mission Hills, Jackson Triggs, Inniskillin — the whole concept of pricing based on relative quality has gone out the window. These three companies dominate the market in BC but, in my opinion, it is hard to find a good value wine at any price point from any of them. I have now problems with charging top dollar for the best product — such as Kettle Valley and Blue Mountain Reserve Pinot Noirs, Nichol’s Syrahs and La Frenz’s higher end wines — but I also visibly bristle when the same kind of prices are charged for wines that aren’t even close to being that good.

3. It’s time for the big guys to show some leadership in price and quality

Finally, while I completely acknowledge the role that the big guys mentioned above have played in driving the BC industry forward, its time they offered a better quality/value ratio for consumers. If Mt. Lehman can sell a great $14 Cabernet-Foche, and Domaine de Chaberton a gorgeous $11 Rose, and La Frenz unbelievable $20 white wines, why can’t the big guys with their massive production?

So there’s my rant for today. Yes, there is a problem. But it is more than just a change in consumer price interest. It has to do with quality — and value.


Holiday Wine Reflections

August 25, 2011

Back at work this week after taking the first part of August off and wanted to start back in with some wine reflections from our holidays!

1. Portland is a great wine city, too!

Portland, Oregon has a justified reputation as a great food city, as we definitely confirmed during our recent five day stay. But what surprised me a bit was how great the wine scene was as well — and not just for Oregon wines! The restaurants have great — and reasonably priced — wine lists, aided in no small part by no sales tax. For example, at a couple of places we tried mini-flights of Oregon Pinot Noirs that made for an easy and cost efficient way to taste increasingly complex wines. At the trendy Gruner, I found an entire wine list made up of German, Austrian and Alsace wines (including a Zweigelt that was a very nice red!). At James Beard award winner Nostrana, they had a 94 point Parker Chianti Classico for $67, and a 2001 Produttori Barbaresco for $85! And don’t get me started on the Vinopolis wine store — there were literally twenty highly rated wines (from Barolo, to Barbaresco, Brunello, Chateauneuf du Pape and high end California Cabs) at ridiculously low prices!

2. Rose really is the wine of summer!

As the weather turned great in August and finally got hot, we started to drink Roses and, boy, are they refreshing in the heat! I know I already blogged on Roses this year, but we really couldn’t get enough of them. And the best of them seem to come from right here in BC — La Frenz, Averill Creek, Mt. Lehman and Domaine de Chaberton were our favourites this year. Even better, the prices are often well below $20, so it was easy to go through a case!

3. Cafe Brio in Victoria remains among the best wine restaurants around

We always try to go to this gem on Fort Street for our anniversary, both for the food and the wine. Once again, both didn’t disappoint. And what great pricing — we had the 2010 La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc for $40!!!! Unbelievable value and perfect with our food.

4. The Fraser Valley has moved ahead of Vancouver Island when it comes to wine.

I got a chance to taste a bit on both sides of the water and was blown away by the quality and value in the Valley. More to come on this up and coming area, but with Mt. Lehman, Vista d’Oro and Blackwood Lane, in particular, there is really good wine being made there. And — aside from Andy Johnston at Averill Creek in Duncan — it is better than what is being made on the Island. Plus its a heck of a lot easier to find the wineries — the signage on the Island is ridiculous, so bad that in once case I just gave up trying.

5. Vancouver restaurant wine pricing is, for the most part, out of control.

We ate at a number of places at home as well — old favourites and new ones — and while the food is great, Vancouver restaurant wine pricing is getting crazy at most places. When you have to pay $13 – $14 for a decent glass of wine, something is wrong. And there is no excuse for that, especially with the wine values you can find out there, including from BC. Almost not worth drinking in a restaurant anymore!

Ah well, back to reality and work. But it was a great summer of food and wine. Next week, look for me to resume my reviews of some of the Fraser Valley wineries!