I recently made a post on Twitter:
What I have learned from my travels: wine should never be cheap
Although it has picked up more than 130 likes, it also caused some controversy. One well known American critic replied, ‘Completely f***ing wrong.’ I was a little surprised by this.
But I think it’s in response to a misunderstanding. I’m all for wines that offer value for money and I think that’s one of the most useful things I can do: taste lots of inexpensive wines and recommend the good ones to my readers.
My point was quite different, though. While the cussing critic may have thought I was referring to wines in the $15 range, I am talking about wines that sell ex cellars for below, say, one euro. There are a lot of wines like these. They fill up the shelves of of supermarkets and discounters throughout Europe. I regularly look at the wine aisles, and I can tell you that there are lots of wines retailing in the UK at £5 or below, and with duty, tax and retailer margin, no producer is making any money from these bottles.
It sounds good for the consumer, being able to drink cheaply. But it’s actually not: those prices are unsustainable, and reflect a market where there’s too much supply and not enough demand. Farmers can’t farm properly to hit those price points. The race to the bottom in terms of price points sucks life out of the wine category. It also sucks out all the profit.
This problem isn’t unique to wine: other agricultural categories are also drawn into unprofitability by too-low prices, especially when they are trapped with limited routes to market.
We argue for truly sustainable farming practices, but someone has to pay for it. Really cheap wine isn’t good for anyone.