In this edition:
- Festive Glamour: When the festive season throws you an occasion, you need to glam it up.
- Andrew McUtchen looks for fun in cricket with former Australian cricketer Damien Fleming.
- Take a look at our Christmas Gift Guide.
It wont surprise you to know that Ive got a shortlist of bottles Im coveting on the off-chance Im temporarily flush.
For winery owners and winemakers, theres a different set of numbers thats always on their minds: the cost of their products.
Contrary to what many people think, theres not a massive amount of money to be made in wine. Fortunes are certainly not made overnight.
So what does it cost to produce a bottle of wine? A huge number of variables go into the cost of producing wine, and these influence the price of a bottle on the shelf at your local.
Large wineries can achieve great economies of scale, which are passed on to drinkers, so instead well look at a typical small-to-medium winemaking operation that produces 1000 cases of high-quality wine without cutting corners, using pinot noir and chardonnay grapes from a cool-climate region, such as the Mornington Peninsula or the Yarra Valley.
These figures are, admittedly, a loose estimate but will give you an overall picture of the major costs of producing a wine.Grapes: $45 a case (12 bottles)
Whether grown on site or purchased by the tonne as picked fruit, grapes are the largest individual expense a winery has. The going rate for good-quality grapes is about $2500 a tonne. It may cost more for a small winery to cultivate its own grapes up to 50 per cent extra depending on how meticulous it is with its viticulture and any extra disease pressure on the vines that year.
Harvest costs need to be considered, too. It costs about $300 a tonne to hand-pick white grapes and half that for reds (white grapes generally have smaller bunches and are harder to spot among the leaves). After all that, a tonne of grapes produces just under 600 litres of wine for bottling.Winemaking: $45 a case
Good wine doesnt make itself. Theres quite a lot of work that goes into the natural process of turning sugar into alcohol and making a wine taste as good as it can. Wages of winemakers and cellar hands, external lab reports and chemicals such as the sulphur dioxide preservative all add up.
The way the wines are fermented and aged stainless steel tanks along with a mix of new and old oak barrels has a large bearing on the winery costs.
A new, good-quality French 228-litre barrel (called a barrique) sets a winemaker back $1300, and the approximate cost of keeping a wine in barrel to mature is about $1200 per tonne per year.Packaging: $20 a case
At some stage after fermentation and maturation, the wine will be bottled. Its rare to see a bottling line in anything but the largest of wineries and most wineries use a mobile bottling service. Bottles, caps, labels (design and printing) and boxes all contribute to this cost.
So there you have it. A well-made, faultless and delicious cool-climate wine costs about $110 a case, or $9.16 a bottle, to make.
On top of the $110 to produce a case of wine, theres then a margin of somewhere between 40 and 60 per cent that the winery puts on the top of the bottles (which is, more often than not, eaten up by accounting and marketing costs, loan repayments and winery reinvestment, leaving very little actual profit).
But thats not all. Storage costs then follow wine that is aged for three years before release has to be kept somewhere and taxes (29 per cent, which is refunded to smaller wineries plus GST on top of that) are all additional.
In effect, a staggering 42 per cent of the cost of every bottle of wine you buy is tax.
Were not finished yet, either.
Once that case leaves the winery, theres storage and freight, distribution agents fees of 35 to 40 per cent and the retailers margin, which again is in the region of 35 to 40 per cent.
Oh, and if you do get a tax refund this year, splash out and spend a little on the wines below.
(Gippsland) $60; 13%
Gippsland is a huge wine region, and this drop comes from the volcanic soils of the Mountain Rivers area, not far from Walhalla. Not only is it a delightful, elegant wine but also a true representation of its terroir: hands-off winemaking, unfiltered, unfined and unadulterated. It has pretty, and complex, aromas and flavours of cherry, strawberry, smoke, spice and earth. It has a smooth mouthfeel, fine drying tannins and an intense flow of flavour that bursts into the finish. One of my favourite wines of the year so far and one I loved drinking.Food match Grilled quail
(Hunter Valley) $20; 13.5%
Looking for a good-value, authentic Hunter Valley shiraz? From low-yielding 40-year-old vines in the Broke Fordwich area and matured for 18 months in old oak barrels, this concentrated wine features aromas of cherry, plum, earth, leather and spice. Similar flavours are found on the savoury palate, with lovely balance and those fine tannins that define the Hunter. The wine really benefited from time in the decanter, indicating it has a good future ahead.Food match Skirt steak with hazelnut picada
(Yarra Valley) $30 ($28 at cellar door); 12.7%
Grown on a slope of east-west-facing vines in Gruyere, three sections of the vineyard are picked separately and kept apart during fermentation before being blended and bottled. Its an elegant wine, with white stonefruit, pear, cantaloupe rind, and spice aromas and flavours. Theres a zesty, mineral zing, too, which adds an extra layer of complexity as the wine flows evenly across the tongue, building to a fine citrus and stonefruit crescendo. Dont serve it too cold.Food match Pan-fried flounder
(Clare Valley) $21.99; 14.5%
A near-even blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, the wine gets its name from the vineyard where the grapes are grown and where winemaker Neil Pike walks his dog each day and night. This is the vinous version of comfort food rich and fruity aromas of plum, blackcurrant, earth and bittersweet chocolate lead to sumptuous flavours that include dark cherry, cassis, subtle oak and blueberry. Its structure is a delight, with fine-grained tannins, a full mid-palate and a finish that rolls on and on.Food match Slow-roast lamb shoulder
(Yarra Valley) $18.99; 13.2%
This might just be the best-value wine in Australia. It is complex and delicious, with aromas of white peach, oatmeal, spice and citrus. Its a similar story on the intense palate, along with slatey minerality and lime juice. Its taut structure is a highlight with linear acidity and a light grip and it has a lengthy finish that hangs around. This really benefits from being served at just under room temperature take it out of the fridge an hour before you drink it.Food match Crab salad