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A $30 Wine That’s Made Like a $100 Wine

Poplar Grove's merlot is an exercise in passion over finance.

We start with an old yarn: “How do you make a small fortune in the wine business?” “Start with a big one!”

It’s back to school time, so I may as well admit that ECON 120 wasn’t exactly my best course. I remember something about guns and butter but I don’t recal any talk about the wisdom of dropping fruit. But spend enough time around winemakers and you’re bound to hear some of them (the good ones at least) trot out the phrase. It seem like just one of the techniques they use in crafting their wares, until you stop and have a good think about what dropping fruit is. It’s the act of taking perfectly good grape clusters and cutting them off before they’re ready and discarding them. The goal is that the remaining clusters will not have to fight as hard to get ripe and ready. You’ll have fewer grapes (that’s a certainty) but better ones (that’s the uncertainty). For a winemakers it’s a calculated risk, for an economist it’s a crazy one.

I was reflecting on this while reading up on Poplar Grove‘s new bottling of Merlot and came across the phrase “we reduced our 2010 harvest from 210 tons to just over 80 tons.” It’s an amazing (and amazingly expensive) commitment to make and one that you almost never see on a wine that sells for less than triple digits. To add to the expense, the winery holds the wine back until it deems it’s ready to release. So while most Okanagan Merlots are on their 2012 vintage, this one is 2010 (back to the economics, that’s two years of no revenues on this wine). To add one more level, you can still buy a small amount of the 2008 from the winery at under $30. That means someone (i.e. the winery) has essentially paid to store wine for you—at no additional cost.

I don’t want to sully the economics seminar with something as trite as individual tasting notes. Suffice to say this is a big wine with a lot of muscles and broad shoulders but with the calming influence of vanilla, some sage and eucalyptus. It gets better with some decanting and will get even better with some more bottle age. I would be confident putting it in a blind tasting with some of Napa’s heavy hitting merlots that are two to three times as pricey and who (broadly) follow the same grotesquely expensive growing and winemaking practices as Poplar Grove does here.

When I’m asked for wines that are a smoking deal, I usually gravitate to the sub $15 imports from Spain and Portugal, but when you factor in the cost versus price ratio I challenge you (yes, an actual challenge) to find a better deal out there right now than this $30 bottle—I’m anxious to see the results.

pg-merlot-2010

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