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Triple Digit Pinot

Articles are beginning to surface about the effect of this country’s recession on high wine prices. The World Market Council, a St. Helen trade group, found that despite the current gloomy economic outlook, most recent data indicate that consumers are continuing to buy fine wine. United States consumption of wine has reached $30 billion and has grown at a 20 percent rate for several years. The thirst for premium Pinot Noir, in particular, seems to be unquenchable.

There are now a number of American Pinot Noirs that are priced in the triple digits with several more (Etude Heirloom, J. Rochioli East Block, Gypsy Canyon Vineyards, and Williams Selyem Precious Mountain) knocking on the $100 door. Archery Summit and Paul Hobbs were the first to break the $100 in the early part of this century, and several others have followed suit. The list includes the following:

Ambullneo 2006 Rim Rock Vineyard, Rancho Ontiveros, Pinot Noir One, all Santa Maria Valley, all $119

Clos De La Tech 2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir $101.50.

Cloud’s Rest 2005 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $100

Domaine Serene 2003 Grace Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $100

Domaine Serene 2003 Monogram Willamette Valley Pinot Noir $200

Kistler 2005 Bodega Headlands Cuvee Elizabeth Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $120

Paul Hobbs 2001 Cuvee Augustina Hyde Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir $140

Sonoma Coast Vineyards 2005 Balistreri Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $100

Despite the run-up in prices of premium California and Oregon Pinot Noir, the price tags look like steals compared to Napa Valley Cabernets where $100 buys you an average mid price range wine and serious collectors and flippers pay up to $500 retail. With 2005 Burgundies of the Premier Cru level commonly reaching triple digits, and Grand Crus quadruple digits, many North American Pinot Noirs look like down right bargains.

Marcassin remains the highest priced after-market American Pinot Noir ($250-$450), with several others demanding triple digit prices (Sea Smoke, Kosta Browne, Sine Qua Non).

When faced with several wines of varying price, studies have shown that consumers most often prefer the most expensive wines. Tasted blind, however, non-expert wine consumers will often pick the less expensive wines. People commonly believe quality is linked to price. This is definitely true with Pinot Noir (up to a point) since the expenses in farming and crafting fine Pinot Noir are high. It is risky business as well, as shown by the widespread loss of the Pinot Noir crop in Northern California this year due to frost pressure during bloom.

Recently, a Bejing-based billionaire paid a record $634,000 for a mix of 27 vintages of Domaine Romanee- Conti Romanee-Conti. This is the highest price ever paid for a single auction lot. Malcom Forbes, the late publisher of Forbes’ magazine paid a record $156,000 in 1985 for a 1787 bottle of Chateau Lafite reputedly from Thomas Jefferson’s cellar (see book review, The Billionaire’s Vinegar on page 17). Managing Director Stephen Williams of the London-based Antique Wine Company told Reuters that “The fine wine industry is completely immune from the global credit crunch.”

Speaking of triple digits, see the short feature on Bodega Chacra in this issue's Pinot Briefs (page 20).

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