The Grapevine

Over the top As everyone in the wine business knows, pricing is as much a matter of marketing and mystique as it is of economics. A dollar or two difference between your brand and those of a peer might make more difference to a potential consumer than $10 does at a lower price point. In Washington, a locus classicus of such differential pricing has long been DeLille Cellars' approach to setting prices for its top-of-the-line Chaleur Estate white and red—in the same ballpark as those of industry leaders like Quilceda Creek and Leonetti Cellars, yet just enough lower to be noticeable. DeLille is decisively breaking with that practice with its new home vineyard Grand Ciel. Planted in April 2004 on Red Mountain, the first fruit harvested in the fall of 2004 is still in barrel and won't be released until winter 2008. You can reserve your share now by paying $125 a bottle in advance ($375 for a wood-boxed set of three bottles), should you decide, as DeLille suggests, to "begin your vertical collection of this benchmark Red Mountain red wine." With this offer, the company sets an unprecedented price point for Washington wine. It puts it in a strictly collector-oriented category beside the Napa Valley's Bryant Family or Shafer, though still well short of superstar labels like Caymus and Screaming Eagle, which routinely go for $250 a bottle these days. Will DeLille's daring move succeed? Probably. There are only 800 three-packs available, so by the time the wine will be ready to savor, along about 2010 or 2012, if you want to have at least three vintages to sample in your "vertical," $125 might not seem like much at all. A correction From Laurie Lewis Jones, chief marketing officer, the Wine Group: "Dear Mr. Downey: In the June 20, 2005, issue of Seattle Weekly . . . you reported that Charles Shaw [wine, aka Two Buck Chuck] is made by 'The Wine Group.' This is entirely incorrect. . . . We are concerned about the harm that this misstatement may cause to our brand and our company." We understand your concern, Ms. Lewis Jones. "Two Buck Chuck" ("Three Buck Chuck" in Washington state) is manufactured for Trader Joe's by the Bronco Wine Company, owned by Fred Franzia. The Franzia brand, on the other hand, is the property of Ms. Lewis Jones' employer, the Wine Group. The Group is the third largest wine manufacturer in the United States, a privately held and highly secretive firm without a Web site, but according to Wine Business Monthly, it produces 40,000,000 cases of wine annually, much of it inexpensive box wine. Its best-known products, apart from those packaged under the Franzia label, are the fortified fruit wines from Mogen David, popularly known as "Mad Dog 20/20."

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