As a Napa winemaker told me the other day, the market for expensive Napa Valley wines has dried up like a desert riverbed. When I asked how bad things were, the vintner replied, "Anything above $20 is in trouble."
That may be an exaggeration, but perhaps not by much, since many Napa wines sell above that price and, indeed, many noteworthy Napa Cabernets easily top $100 a bottle. That puts them in the wine equivalent of a high fire-hazard zone. There's a powerful greed factor at play in these prices, although California's top red also has to deal with the expense of pursuing its ultimate expression. Cabernet's high production costs can be found at almost every level-in land, farming costs, low yields, French oak barrels and oversize corks, laborious berry-sorting, barbell-sized bottles, and more.