Earlier this year, I was browsing through some recent reviews online (at the content-rich and interesting site Wine Review Online) and came across a writer's comment that said "all of the Tablas Creek wines are conspicuously expensive, and if there is an explanation for this that would justify the pricing, I am unaware of it." I was surprised to read this (about a $22 bottle of wine, no less) and started a conversation with him.
His comment brings up an interesting issue on pricing, and how to measure value. There's an unspoken hierarchy of pricing for different grapes which goes back to France. Bordeaux commands the highest prices, so wines that use Cabernet from elsewhere have a higher ceiling. Burgundy is next, and similarly, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs have a relatively high ceiling. This has nothing (or at least, only very little) to do with cost of production of these grapes. Rhone wines (the originals, from the Rhone Valley) are still tremendous values, and although the best Chateauneuf du Papes have risen considerably in price over the past decade, it is easy to look at a good Cotes du Rhone that is available for $12 retail and use that as a main point of comparison for what a wine of this general complexion should cost.
Of course, we feel that you can put even our Cotes de Tablas wines ($22 suggested retail) in a blind tasting with the best wines from Chateauneuf du Pape and they will hold their own admirably. The reviews that we've received tend to support this. But, there will always be a less expensive option out there that are good (and that's a great thing). But, does this fact mean that no Grenache-based (or Mourvedre-based) wine can be worth $20? Or $30? Or only if it bears the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation?
If you change your perspective and compare our wines to others from California, I think that the comparison reflects well on their value; when we were pouring at the Wine Spectator's California Wine Experience this past fall, there were 170 wineries there pouring red wines. The 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel (at $45) was the third least-expensive wine at the tasting, and it's the most expensive of our wines. So, for wines that clear the bar, however arbitrary, that the Wine Spectator sets for its "best of California" show the Tablas Creek shows off as a value. At around $20, the Cotes de Tablas wines are, I think, even more unusual for California.
And, of course, there is good reason for the pricing: even the least expensive Tablas Creek wines are done by hand, entirely estate grown on our certified organic vineyard, with low yields, from vines that we brought in ourselves from France and propagated in our own grapevine nursery, etc., all of which do cost more to do.
Yet writers (and consumers) taste wines from all over the world, and have to make judgments both relative (which Cabernet, or which second-growth Bordeaux, provides the best value for money) and absolute (what is the best $20 wine I can buy that will fit with what I'm eating). Everyone has different standards, and a wine which is reasonable to one person may be exorbitant to another.
I'm interested to know more about how you, as readers, measure value. Do you compare a wine to others similar in varietal? From the same region? That may receive the same review or score from a journalist?