the price is... what?!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sean Sullivan’s excellent blog, the Washington Wine Report – – has a post about high scores and high prices for Washington wines. Sullivan reports that Harvey Steiman, who covers Washington for the Wine Spectator, has awarded 96 points to a cabernet from Côte Bonneville, which apparently matches the highest score that Steiman has ever given to a Washington wine. According to Sullivan, who’s done the research, Steiman has only given Washington six 96-pointers (three to Cayuse, three to Leonetti) in his history. Apparently I’ve only posted a few higher scores myself – 97 points to wines from Betz, Leonetti, Quilceda Creek and Cayuse. My first-ever 100 point score went to the 2006 Royal City Syrah from Charles Smith – still unreleased by the way.

Now Steiman has posted his review of Côte Bonneville’s extremely limited (40 cases made) cabernet. I wrote about this wine on this blog some months ago, but since the archives have been accidentally deleted, I’ll repost what I had to say at the time:

“Côte Bonneville is the estate winery for DuBrul vineyard, which is one of the most sought-after sites in the Yakima valley. Here too the alcohol levels are kept in check (interestingly, the chardonnay comes in higher than the reds) and the fruit is impeccable. These are not inexpensive wines, but friends who tasted them with me, and followed through with the wines at dinner, insisted that from their consumer point of view, the prices were more than fair.

The top bottling – Côte Bonneville DuBrul Vineyard – gets huge scores and wins numerous accolades. But the Carriage House red, at less than half the cost, is a similar blend, from the same vineyard (different blocks), and beautifully crafted. The wine to look for is the still unreleased Côte Bonneville 2006 DuBrul Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – a fruit-driven bottle of pure cabernet power. Rich, ripe and sexy, with berries, cherries galore, it’s a two-barrel-only selection from the vineyard, not labeled reserve but essentially that’s what it is. For more information, visit”

When I tasted the wine last spring, Hugh and Kathy Shiels, who own the vineyard and winery, had not decided on a price. Apparently, they’ve ticketed it at $200 a bottle, which makes it the most expensive red wine ever released by a Washington winery. Is the wine worth the price? Is any wine worth $200 a bottle? These questions get asked again and again, and the answer of course, is yes, no, and perhaps.

Yes it’s worth the price if a buyer is willing to pay it. That is how the free market works. No it’s not worth the price if you consider that equally good wines may be purchased for far less, including comparable wines from Washington. Perhaps it’s worth the price if, as is the case with the Côte Bonneville, the winery (and vineyard) has earned its stripes. DuBrul is by any measure one of the greatest vineyards in the country. Outstanding wines are made from DuBrul fruit by a stellar lineup of accomplished winemakers. Toss in the fact that the Shiels don’t produce much wine under their Côte Bonneville label, and what they do make gets very high scores and reviews from the Spectator and Parker (Jay Miller). When you have a great vineyard, high scores, and very little wine to sell (in this instance, just two barrels of the cabernet), you can pretty much charge whatever you like. This wine could be priced at $300 a bottle and it would, I suspect, still fly out the door.

Does the combination of a high score and a high price for a few Washington wines add credibility to this state’s wines in general, as Sullivan proposes? It can’t hurt, that’s for sure. Although the general trend in the industry these days is downward in pricing, a few top fliers are going to continue to push the upward limits. Ultimately it is a business decision that each winery must make according to their own business model. But a 96 point cabernet that sells 40 cases at $200 a bottle is still a long way from a Mouton or a Latour that sells 12,000 cases at $800 a bottle.


Sean Sullivan said...

Thanks for the kind words Paul. I have contacted the winery to confirm the price as I am still a bit shocked by it as well as determine the release date. Will let you and your readers know what I find.

Sean Sullivan said...

I received confirmation from the winery that the release price for the 2006 Cabernet will be $200 as listed in Spectator. The wine will be released in the Fall and will only be available through the winery.

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