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December 28, 2006

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I'm still introducing myself to LI wines. Taking a look at this list, I must say that I'm a bit shocked by the prices I see. Most Finger Lakes wines manage to stay under $20. Those that are of a limited production or special reserve usually range up to $29, with the exception being sparkling wines or ice wines which sometimes creep just above $30. These price guidelines hold for the wines of even the "top" wineries such as Dr. Frank's or Wiemer.

So, why are so many LI wines priced so much above their New York counterparts?

Jason,

You probably know the Finger Lakes wines better than I do, so I can't speak to their prices, but I can certainly make a couple comments here.

First, is overhead/cost of operations. My guess is that land and labor costs in Central New York are a whole lot cheaper than they are on Long Island. That bumps up the cost of wines a bit.

Second is hand harvesting. Again, I'm not sure what percentage of Finger Lakes wines are made with hand-harvested fruit, but I'm willing to bet that almost all of the fruit that went into the wines I've listed here was picked by hand -- obviously a lot more expensive than using mechanical pickers.

Third is oak barrels. The Finger Lakes excel with bright, aromatic whites and the best wines don't see a second in oak, which probably keeps the costs down some.

Forth...the market here will bear higher prices. I think, because of LI's proximity to Manhattan, people are used to paying a bit more for things than they probably are in central NY.

There are obviously other things at play here. I also think that you are a bit spoiled ;) When I was in California this summer, prices were generally higher there than they are here on Long Island...

I'm sure some of my wine industry readers will chime in here...

Quality might be an issue as well. Beyond riesling and gewurzt (sometimse), I think LI wines are better overall.

There's hardly a doubt that many, if not most, Californian wines are extremely overpriced. Don't get me started on France. Overall, in the greater wine world, the price of LI wines is hardly outrageous.

In the Finger Lakes there are an insane amount of variations of wine production methods, but I think it could be generalized that the costs of labor and production, whether hand-picking is used or not, are lower. While some FL wines are not oaked, many of them are. Generally, I'd assume most oak costs to be similar.

However, I think that some of the more heralded wineries would charge a heck of a lot more if they could. Dr. Frank's dry riesling could probably be priced at $40 a bottle. Why isn't it? First, like you said, we do not share a proximity to a Manhattan or a Boston or any source of wealth like that. Secondly, the variation of grape varieties, aka the sweet stuff, competes heavily with the vinifera. Even the best wineries realize that the consumer might purchase bottles at a neighboring winery for $10 a pop and then scoff at paying three or four times that at the next stop. No, this doesn't address what's actually in the bottle, but it does reflect human nature. As more and more FL wineries embrace vinifera, perhaps the costs will go up due to more uniformal offerings.

And, yes, I do think the general weakness of FL reds helps keep costs down. While Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc find success during most vintages, there are a couple of spoilers thrown in. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are only worth the effort in a few select years.

The one advantage to lower prices, however, is that it makes the wine more accesible to a wider swath of curious consumers. I imagine that some people might skip over a LI red because, for the same price, they know for sure that a California red is probably going to be at least okay. I truly believe one of the reasons FL rieslings have gained such traction is because they are priced lower than a lot of German and French counterparts.

Jason, you have hit the nail on the head regarding one of my biggest issues with LI wines. I love them and visit the wineries at least twice a year for extended visits. And I often try to bring other wine lovers with me to open up their experience to LI. Most usually come away impressed with the visit, but they don't come away with many purchases. The feedback I always get is that for the price of good LI wine ($25 - $40) they can easily find GREAT wine from other places.
I like the wines from LI because I do get a sense of "place" when tasting them, and for this I'm willing to pay a premium. But for many people in search of good wine in the $12 - $18 range, LI isn't going to make their shopping list.

Yeah, I've heard similar thoughts from others as well. Most people I know who are casual wine drinkers rarely spend above $20 if they can help it, and will only do so if there is a "guarantee" (aka California) that it will be worth the effort. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I can't imagine that the relative price of LI wines is helpful to their cause.

In the Finger Lakes, the various circumstances that keep prices down have probably helped introduce the wines to a broader audience. Recently, one of my relatives saw the Wine Spectator that featured New York, and she bought some FL rieslings from some of the best producers simply because they were all around $15-17 in price. If she had to spend $30-50 based solely on critical praise, she most definitely would have opted out.

In my own case, I've been hesitant to buy the more expensive LI reds because of their price. I'm glad Lenn has continued to make suggestions that will help me zero in on what's worth it! Another problem altogether is that, so far, LI wines are hard to find upstate...

Hi, I think one of the key issues here is the 'perception' many have on LI wines. Now this summer, we toured the area and found many spectacular and award winning wines.

However, here in Manhattan at least, many ... er, 'lesser' winneries donate wine to events in exchange for publicity. Invariably, people speak of the LI wine in disparaging terms and it gets a bad rep.

Not sure how the situation can be remedied and of course, the wineries are generous to donate, but this is the state of the issue.

Marisa D'Vari, wine storyteller, http://AWineStory.com

I'm planning a trip to the North Fork wineries in May. I'm looking to buy a case of red and a case of white for easy summer drinking, mostly with food. I'm looking to spend around $15.00 a bottle. Any suggestions for lower cost, easy drinking summer wines?

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