What is a ‘premium wine’ – and why do wineries want to make one?

‘Premium wine’ seems to be a new buzz word (or buzz words) these days in BC, and everybody here seems to want to make one, But exactly is a ‘premium wine,’ and why do wineries want to make one?

I think there are a range of possible answers to both questions, and they are interelated.

A premium wine could – and in my opinion should – be the best possible wine you can make from that grape or grapes, the one that uses only your best fruit and makes the most of your winemaking skills. It should take the most effort, may carry the most risks (like waiting for the ripest grapes before picking or using minimalist winemaking intervention), and cost you the most to make. For those reasons — and assuming you are successful – you should be able to charge more for it.

But there are other possible definitions of/reasons for making a premium wine that I am less enamoured with.

For some wineries, “premium’ seems to mean making as tannic a red wine as possible, something I call the ‘big red wine syndrome’.

Unfortunately, many of these wines — or should I say most of these wines — don’t have enough fruit in them to wait out the tannins. So not only are they not pleasurable to drink young, if you have the patience to wait for the tannins to subside, all you are left with is a mouthful of wood!

The other rationale I am really not crazy about is using the term ‘premium wine’ to charge $45, $50, $60 and even more — even if the quality doesn’t justify it. Then its just a trophy, something that sounds and looks impressive, but is — at a minimum — disappointing to drink.

In my opinion, the latter two phenomena are now happening way too much in BC, and its getting worse! Prices for many BC wiines are already way too high here, and this will only make them even more expensive.

Now some may argue that we should let the market determine what price or quality works best. Or they may point to the ‘cult wines’ of California or ‘garagistes’ in Bordeaux to show that exclusivity, scarcity and high prices work.

Well, in terms of the latter argument, I can’t comment – those wines are often $500 a bottle or more (lots more), so I will likely never taste them and certainly could never justify buying them.

And as for the market dictating things…well, in BC — for BC wines — I see evidence that the market is making the exact opposite argument.

Many of these so-called premium wines appear to be sitting on the shelves of both government and private stores. And at least one producer seems to have me on speed dial each year trying to sell me some of theirs, ‘in limited supply’,…but there sure is a lot of it hanging around.

My advice in all of this?

Well, I’m not a winemaker, but I would suggest making the best, most accessible wine you can, call it what you want, and sell it for less than $40 (my ‘tipping point’ for BC wines).

And for the wine consumer/wine dweeb (and I am definitely both of those!):
* stay clear of BC wines over $40;
* try a so-called ‘premium wine’ before buying more than one bottle; and
* trust your own taste buds – you know the style you like, will know whether a wine tastes good to you and, most importantly, whether it is worth your money to buy!




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