Some thoughts on premium pinot pricing

The Copain 2009 Kiser “Combe de Grès” Pinot Noir thread got me thinking about pinot pricing and relative valuations. Some thoughts:

  1. The members of this board HATE price increases. Especially apparent watershed increases on their favorite wines. I think we can all probably agree on this.
  2. The “magnum” effect. Lots of discussion as to what a fair markup for a mag over a 750 is. For the purpose of argument, let’s assume that a $250 magnum translates to a 750 value of say - $110.
  3. The regional price framework. I buy and taste a lot of California pinot (Rhys, Rochioli, Ceritas, Kutch, Dehlinger, Williams Selyem, Arnot Roberts, Rivers Marie to name a few. For my taste, Copain is in the top echelon of California pinot (I think many would agree with me here). The price of top releases from Rhys, Rochioli, W-S are now at or approaching $100. So the Copain CdG price is at the upper end of the Regional spectrum.
  4. The global price framework. The global standard for Pinot Noir is France. What will $110 get you in Burgundy (say ’10, ’11 and likely ’12 vintages)? A top of the line Village? A very good 1er? A decent Clos de Vougeot GC ? $110 is more than an order of magnitude less expensive than Burgundy’s most costly releases. (note – I haven’t been a Burgundy buyer in a while, but I think my examples are generally in the ballpark, although I’m sure that less expensive good examples exist.)

I don’t think anyone would argue that the price escalation in Burgundy in recent years, for various reasons (huge Asian luxury demand) has been much steeper than that for California Pinot.

Most times perception lags reality. How long did it take the world to recognize that Japanese photo and electronics were on par with those of the U.S. and Europe? In my opinion (and this is just my opinion), the top pinots from California are approaching the overall quality of top Burgundy. Not the same as, but approaching overall quality. At a much lower price, overall.

In summary, while I wish Copain’s new crown jewel was much less expensive than it is, I don’t believe that the price is out of line on a regional or global basis. Just me.

Mike, the reason I pulled back on Burgundy is the recent price increases happening for what it seemed to me was 2009 and then into 2010–I stopped paying attention to pricing after that as it got beyond what I thought was doable. I have dabbled and bought a 1/2 case or so of Burg this year, but that is mainly on wines in the range you mention, and with a budget that I stay to, that gets eaten up fast at $100 each.

I don’t mind paying $75 for Kiser Bas and Haut (and will continue to do so), as that Copain vineyard is as good as any in CA, alongside say the things Kevin is doing at Skyline and Home, and Pisoni Estate. Those are all in that range. In 2014, I will buy some Burg again, a handful like 2013, as I re-tool my buying strategy. Cutting back on my total volume to allow some more of this wine to come into my cellar again.

I’ve got some mags, a handful but with finite cellar space and infrequent settings for mags to be enjoyed, I’d rather by 750s and enjoy other wines than tie up budget and space with double sized bottles.

I suspect you will get a lot of varied and detailed discussion about some of your points above, too.

I don’t think you have to be a member of this board to HATE price increases to ones favorite bottles of wine.

How is what you’re saying any different than the Cali Pinot v burgundy argument that happens here regularly? Tough to argue that burgundy isn’t expensive from a burgundy lovers perspective

I absolutely agree Charlie. And it’s spreading!

Fair points Mike.
I guess my beef is more about the mag only offering–They don’t store well for me.
I’m still not sure I would buy 750s at 110 without some time to prepare but maybe.

Certainly not the first domestic PN producer to make and price a bottle outside of my comfort zone. You have to recognize there are so many terrific Pinots made for 1/3 to 1/2 this price.

Anyone want to keep raising price to the point where people balk? Let them eat cake! It’ll taste better than any money we can give them, and if they happen to starve because cake has little nutrition, then so be it. I don’t care what you are comparing it to, after a certain point it’s a rich man’s game and we know how cruel that can be.

I stopped buying Rhys after the first 2 or 3 of the seemingly endless price increases. It is supposed to be wonderful and the closest thing to Burgundy in the US - I’ve heard that before - but to this Burgundy lover, it just does’t deliver, really at all. (They are pleasant enough wines.) At the price point, I do much better in Burgundy, even with their dramatic price increases. Williams Selyem 12-15 years ago, post-acquisition, was a similar disappointment. If Rhys, W-S, etc., would price their wine attractively, I might be interested. But not when they extract heavy price increases from their being the ‘hot’ wine. I gladly leave them to others, like the ‘hot’ sommeliers and wine makers (or even just wine packagers - e.g., Tusk) that feel entitled to charge high prices from their first vintage. Good riddance. Somewhere underneath all this, wine is just a wonderful beverage to have with dinner…

Well, needless to say, this resonates with us. In fact, we are in the midst of a family debate about pricing the first Pinot (2012) we made from the Rochioli vineyard (the highest portion of the vineyard, but we can’t but Rochioli on the label- but we love the wine and are frankly honored to be able to get their fruit- so how do you balance all that?).

We base our pricing in large part on what we pay per ton, and those prices largely drive our bottle price. But farming costs around here keep rising, and we try to work with people whose integrity in farming is consistent with what we believe about respecting place and the environment. So when you get to make wine from special places (which are typically not valley floor) which have high farming costs, things just flow from there.

We struggle to hold the line on pricing, and since we remain “under the radar” we are very sensitive to raising prices (although we do sell out every year). I guess the point here (belabored as it is) is that it isn’t easy running a winery, it isn’t the windfall that outsiders think it is, and it’s hard to not raise prices- and while a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought about paying (or selling) $100 for a Russian River Pinot, I can’t say that is still the case.

One point my wife made (after I mentioned this thread to her) is why should Sonoma County Pinot prices be automatically worth less than Napa Cab prices? Nobody blinks about $100 a bottle there (hell, it’s a bargain), why should Pinot be different? I’m not saying we pop such wines every night- heck, we can barely afford our own, but at the same time, i can’t just say this place doesn’t produce wines that justify those prices.

No easy answers for any of us, but I think all of us who are ITB struggle to keep prices in line- because at the end of the day, we have to sell everything we make. And despite common perception, this business is capital intensive (except for custom crush arrangements which I have a hard time taking very seriously), and costly to run, and making a buck is nowhere as easy as folks seem to think. (but its more fun than anything. Well, almost anything)…

carry on…

I respect everything you said and want wine makers to be profitable and have the ability to continually reinvest in their business. My sense from this and some of the other threads (re: Copain magnum) is that frustration is born out of the perception that the price increase is exponential over a very short period of time.


Thanks for the in-depth ITB perspective. I have to pick on this one paragraph, though. While I think that a person might be more likely to pay $100 for a Napa CS over a Sonoma PN, I think it’s an overstatement that nobody blinks about a wine at that price. I don’t play in that world, but I think I represent a large portion of our relatively small wine community. By the way, I’d pick the Sonoma PN over the Napa CS all day long. [cheers.gif]

And I was going to say what Scott said, but he said it FAR better than I was going to be able to.

P.S. I’d be willing to pay $100 for a RRV PN that was comparable to some similarly priced Napa cabs that are on par in terms of quality and enjoyment.

I own so little cab anymore that if I had to choose, than I take Kyle’s position on the pinot, which he laid out well. I’m not sure yet how I would define “premium” pinot and that will take some cycles for me to mull over. I can say this–my own sensitivity seems to lie in the 75 range, for anything. If I am looking at a wine over that #, it will get my attention and cause me to pause and usually, I am not a buyer. The only way that is going to work going forward, for anything, is that I expect the wine to really deliver on balance, flavor, acidity and thrill. I’ve long since left the arena where hype spends my budget.

When it comes to Pinot Noir, I spend my money in Oregon, CA and Burgundy. If you don’t feel your getting the biggest bang for your buck start looking at Oregon Pinot. Plenty of good leads on this site that I have run with and have found several I will continue to purchase. My CA Pinot lists will get scrutinized very hard in 2014 for the same reasons mentioned above. Additionally, I’ll be exploring OR PInot Noir every chance I get…it’s only a 3 hour drive.

Relativity is an interesting concept. Relative to high end Burgundy, perhaps $100 or $110, or whatever 750 price can be inferred from Copain’s magnum pricing, is a bargain. No arguments there. But for me, that measure of relativity is irrelevant, as I don’t play in that market. Relativity to me is measured against what I paid last year for Copain’s top end stuff, which was in the $65-70 range, and also against what I paid for some $35-$50 burgundies that were recently delivered and thoroughly enjoyed.

This is not dissimilar to the approach I’ve taken with some of the higher end Cab lists I’m was on, with notable price increases year in, year out (and I’m not talking about the standard inflationary increase, I’m referring to the “we’re hot, let’s go” price increase). I dropped most of them, at least those that crossed my “pain point”. And will do more of the same next year no doubt. Are any of those I dropped “expensive” as compared to their counterparts in Bordeaux? No. Are there suitable alternatives at a fraction of the price? Yep. As long as that dynamic holds, I will not be a buyer of anything priced in the top decile coming out of California.

I had a longer response drafted, but in reviewing it, it was entirely redundant to what I already posted on the predecessor thread to this one. But, I would like to reiterate - I wish Copain well, both with regard to this offering and to their continued success. Ideally, they have it right, and this offer will sell out. Or, as someone mentioned on the other thread, worst case they will have some really killer juice to enjoy among themselves and with friends in the years to come.

Really odd to say a magnum-only wine at $250 is like paying $110 for a 750 ml. Is this the “new math” of Copain?

BTW, what is the story behind the name “Combe de Grès?”

The big problem here? You guys are all playing on the wrong field . . . . Come on over to the domestic rhone field and you’ll find much more reasonable pricing [snort.gif] champagne.gif flirtysmile

Pricing to me is truly subjective - one person’s QPR is another person’s ‘splurge’ . . . and it gets doubly confusing when you start ‘comparing’ domestic vs international wines.

To each their own, I say.


Years ago I would not pay more than $50 for any domestic (USA) wine. I have since breached that limit but not for everyday drinking. I have paid $60, $75 or maybe even $85 for a few select California Pinot Noirs. It makes me appreciate Ridge Lytton Springs and Geyserville which have remained pretty consistent in pricing since I first tried them in the 70’s or early 80’s.

from the Copain email release
Nestled in the Deep end of Anderson Valley lies the Kiser vineyard. From the moment he set foot on the Kiser property, Copain co-founder and winemaker Wells Guthrie was intrigued by its potential, which led him to undertake an ambitious vineyard planting project in 2000, while working closely with the Kiser family. The land was planted to various clones of Pinot Noir, with two blocks, the upper block and the lower block, emerging as distinctive and notable. These are bottled as two of Copain’s most highly-acclaimed wines: Copain Kiser “en Haut” and Kiser “en Bas”.

Between these two blocks is an area that is visibly unique from the land surrounding it, where a narrow ravine sweeps down from the upper to the lower block. Unlike the upper block’s pure decomposed sandstone and the lower block’s rich clay, the small ravine separating the two hillside blocks is laden with gravelly sandstone. In French, this is a “combe de grès”, or sandstone combe. Based on these cues, it was in this vineyard section that Wells chose to graft the “sélection massale” clones in 2007. When Wells tasted this wine with several of his sommelier friends, including Rajat Parr, Richard Betts and Robert Bohr, their resounding response echoed his vision: the wine is singular, deserving of its own bottling, and likely to become Copain’s flagship Pinot Noir.