Wine Prices: More Value Buying Direct

In the wake of worldwide lockdowns, wine e-commerce sites have seen enormous growth in sales, which is good news for consumers in some respects. These sites have gotten better, too, at providing information and purchasing support; plus, they have broad selections and they save you the trouble of lugging wine home. But, many smaller, overseas wineries are wary of forking over the listing fees most of these sites now require without assurances that their wines will be actively promoted. Other wineries with top reputations and a loyal following prefer to maintain (ostensibly) firmer control of who ultimately can buy their wines and at what price. Consequently, many desirable wines are still not found on these platforms.

Old orange truck loaded with wine barrels
Old-school wine merchant

And in terms of the buying experience, texting with a “virtual sommelier” just doesn’t compare to chatting with a favorite wine merchant who knows your tastes and preferences almost as well as she knows each of the wines in her shop. While the pandemic has made lingering in a wine store a temporarily endangered pastime, there is another way to buy wine, one recently made all-the-more attractive by ever-lower shipping rates: buying directly from a winery.

Gone are the days when you would drink a wine in a restaurant and be unable to track it down later. Wineries still have a lot of digital growing to do, but most have a web site with contact information. Many have online shops now, too. And, depending on how you calculate, it may be more cost efficient to buy from them—even if they’re in Europe. Here’s what you need to know to decide for yourself.

Working backwards, the wine you buy in the U.S. in a store or online for $24.00 was purchased by the store for around $16 from a distributor. The distributor bought it from an importer for $10, who shipped it to the US for a cost, including customs charges of around $1.50 a bottle, after having purchased it from the winery for $6.00. If you substract the cost of packaging, let’s say $1.00, that leaves the grower $5.00 to pay for growing or buying a kilo of grapes, fermenting them and aging the wine. Bottom line, you have paid $24.00 for $5.00 worth of wine.

Let’s look at the other buying option–direct from the winery. Let’s say you buy a $24.00 bottle of wine. The price per bottle to ship it from Europe is around $8.00 (if you buy 12 bottles). That $24.00 bottle of wine also has $1.00 of packaging. At the end of the day, you’ve paid $24.00 for $15.00 worth of wine, triple the value.

Now, I’m not saying all wineries choose to spend that extra margin on quality—maybe they spend it on advertising or on a heavy bottle with a gold-plated label—I don’t know. Furthermore, for trying new wines, or simply buying a variety of different bottles, nothing beats a wine merchant, her pre-selection, her knowledge and her care. But if there’s a wine you like and want to stock up on, give the winery’s site a try–it’s better for them, and for you.

Originally posted 18 January 2021.

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