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Dear Dr. Vinny,

This might be a loaded question, but what factors go into making one wine more expensive than another? Sutter Home winery isn’t too far down the street from Opus One, if that makes any sense.

—Kyle, Indiana

Dear Kyle,

It’s not necessarily a loaded question, just a complicated one. First off, there’s a lot of variation in the prices of grapes, barrels, winemaking and packaging. Some vineyards are farmed to have much higher yields than others, machine picking is less expensive than hand picking, and if you don’t want to incur the cost of oak barrels, you can use more affordable oak chips instead.

Outside of the actual costs of making a wine, price is sometimes set by perceived value. Some wines are priced to the max of what the market will bear. And some wine lovers are willing to pay more for a bottle of wine because they are invested in the concept and expression of particular bottlings. You can make the same argument about expensive cars, shoes, furniture or art. At some level, you’re paying for the higher-quality components, but you’re also paying for the intellectual property and design that makes one product more valuable in your mind than another.

Finally, I don’t mean to pick on Sutter Home—I’ve enjoyed plenty of Sutter Home wines in my time. But you’re referring to the fact that Sutter Home has a tasting room in Napa, just down the street from Opus One. That may be the case, but it doesn’t mean Sutter Home sources expensive grapes exclusively from Napa, like Opus One. In fact, most Sutter Home wines carry the broad “California” appellation, which means the grapes can come from anywhere in the state, including more affordable options than Napa, and that helps them keep their costs down by blending together styles that give you the most bang for your buck.

—Dr. Vinny

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