Wine industry types like to categorize wines by price point. I’m sure you’ve heard the names of some of the categories they use; premium, ultrapremium, and so on. There are no exact definitions of these terms. A few years ago, Sean Sullivan, who now writes for the magazine I used to write for, Wine Enthusiast, defined the categories this way:
- Economy: $0-$2.99
- Popular: $3-$5.99
- Premium: $6-$7.99
- Super Premium: $8-$9.99
- Ultra Premium: $10-$14.99
- Luxury: $15 +
I guess you could add 50 cents or a dollar today, just to keep up with inflation. Anyhow, regardless of how you define the categories, common sense suggests that there is a “premium” tier that’s based on superior quality. After all, the word “premium” when used as an adjective means: “rated as superior in quality and sold at a higher price.”
Let’s think about that for a minute. Nobody disputes that some wines are better than others. The old adage, “You get what you pay for” is as true in wine as it is in automobiles or clothes — up to a point. Yes, you can buy an “economy” or “popular” wine and save a few bucks. It may come in a jug, or a box, or a can, but it’s still wine, and will probably be clean, well-made and drinkable. So why spend more money on a premium wine?
Well, as I suggested a few weeks ago in my blog article, “Is Expensive Wine Really Worth It?” there’s a big difference between an “economy” or “popular” wine and a “premium” wine. Most popularly-priced economy wines are made from purchased grapes or purchased bulk wine, grown in California’s Central Valley, where the conditions for superior grape growing simply don’t exist. The weather’s too hot, and the soils are too fertile, for the kind of fine varietal wines we love best: Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and all the rest. As a result, those wines cannot offer the complexity and depth of a premium wine.
Contrast that with Kendall-Jackson, and especially our Vintner’s Reserve. As most of you know, every grape that goes into our wines is estate-grown: controlled by us, and grown to the most exacting standards. Every grape comes only from the best coastal vineyards, where the climate is perfect for premium wine. And our winemaking practices are artisanal and hand-crafted.
When you drink a premium wine, you’re dealing with something that people prefer because it’s inherently more complete and satisfying. It’s the difference between a wine you just gulp down, versus one where you think, “Wow, this is really good.” Goodness doesn’t just happen — it’s the product of deliberate, premium growing and winemaking practices.
It’s that “really good” factor that characterizes — or should characterize — premium wine, and it’s what we here at Kendall-Jackson strive to capture in every bottle we produce.
Steve Heimoff is one of America’s most respected and well-known wine writers. The former West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and a contributor to Wine Spectator, he has also authored two books on the subject of California wine, including “New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff,” published in the fall of 2007.