Unpolished Grape 101: Why Are Some Wines Pricier Than Others?

For anyone that has ever walked down the wine aisle in a grocery store, or ordered off of a restaurant wine menu, it is apparent that there is a huge variance for the price of wine. What makes one wine cost more than another?

Not all wines are treated the same. The vast differences in environment, wine-making techniques, and wine-handling can all drive up the cost of your bottle!

The Grapes

Some grapes are harder to grow and require more vineyard care than others. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grows relatively easy in a myriad of warm environments because it’s fairly agreeable and easier to please than some its peers. On the contrary, Pinot Noir grapes are a bit more finicky and often require greater care in the vineyard. In addition, PN grapes are often grown in cooler climates, where rain or frost may be more prevalent and reduce the amount of healthy grapes available to make the wine. PN grapes are also more prone to rot and disease. All of these factors can make a wine more expensive.

The Grape-Growing Environment

Location matters! Environmental factors and vineyard placement affect the cost of wine. Grapes grown in higher altitudes or on the side of a mountain could be more expensive than grapes grown on valley floors due to the added challenges that come with higher elevations. Also, wine from grapes grown on expensive land like Napa Valley could cost more than those grown in Texas. Some vineyards in dry regions may require expensive irrigation, which could also drive up the cost of the final wine.

A vineyard on steep land could have higher growing costs

Maintenance & Harvest Options

Grapes situated in low-lying areas like valley floors or prairie-style land can be harvested by machine. The equipment can easily move about, shaking the vines and collecting the berry clusters as it moves through the vineyard.

A machine can move safely on flatter land

On the contrary, grapes grown on steep mountains must be picked by hand because it is too dangerous for machines to maneuver about. This will require hiring helping hands to complete the job, which could in turn, drive up the cost of your wine.

Grapes harvested by hand

In the Winery

Most wines go through a similar process in the winery: reception, fermentation, and finally on to bottling. However, premium wines may have added steps, like careful hand-sorting once in the winery, fermentation punch-over techniques completed by a staff member, or manual processes to extract more flavor and complexity. Also, premium wineries may choose to use more expensive equipment, which will impact the final wine price.


Premium wines are more likely to be eligible for aging. The longer a wine sits in a winery, the more storage it will use. The longer a wine-maker holds on to a bottle for maturation, the more facility costs they will incur. This will impact the final cost of the wine.

Packing, Shipping & Distribution

Bottles, closures, and wine labels are more costs associated with the price of wine. Heavier bottles generally cost more to ship, and producers must also pay for transportation costs. Depending on where a wine is coming from and traveling too, the distribution expenses could quickly add up, which are then passed on to the consumer.


Alcohol tax is unavoidable in most countries and can be a doozy! It will certainly add to the final price of the wine.

So the next time you purchase a “premium” bottle, think about all the additional love and care that may have gone into it!


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