Yao Ming, the world's tallest vintner, has put a towering price on his premiere wine. Yao's 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve, is priced at $625 a bottle. All 300 cases have already sold out in China, the only market the where the reserve was offered.
A second Napa Valley Cabernet, also from 2009, was released at $175; 5,000 cases were made.
The quality of the reserve is impressive, showing both the strengths and weaknesses of a challenging year. It's well-structured, dense and chewy, with complex aromas of loamy earth, dried berry and black licorice. Tightly wound, it is also, like many 2009 Napa Cabernets, quite dry and tannic. It has only been bottled a few months, so whether the dry tannins will subside is my only concern. It is a blend of 82 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 percent Merlot, 7 percent Cabernet Franc and 3 percent Petit Verdot.
Winemaker Tom Hinde says he, Yao and Yao's advisors settled on the $625 price based on what it cost to produce the wine along with finding a price point that in China fits with the Bordeaux equivalent of a second-growth. The regular is positioned against a Bordeaux fourth- or fifth-growth.
The price "puts us in a fair [market] position," Hinde said. The regular wine is priced higher than Caymus and Silver Oak, Hinde said, while the reserve is more in line with the "Harlan-Bond" cult Cabernet range. The wine in China sells for a U.S. equivalent of $1,175, a large portion of that coming from taxes and import fees, Hinde said. The other Cabernet would sell for $289 in China, Hinde said.
"We looked at what it costs to produce wine in Napa," Hinde said today. "They're fairly expensive grapes." The price per ton came to $15,000, Hinde said. He would only offer one grape source, Broken Rock Vineyard, owned by Bill Hill.
Yao, the 7' 6" former NBA All-Star for the Houston Rockets, lives in Shanghai most of the year, but is also shopping for a winery in Napa, Hinde said. Many are for sale, both officially and unofficially, he said. The magic number? About $20 million.
Both 2010 and 2011 are in barrel at the Ranch, a custom-crush facility in St. Helena, where many wineries lease space, he said. Both are very good vintages and the case production for both the regular and reserve will remain around 5,000 and 300 cases, respectively.
"We could have probably made twice as much," Hinde said, based on consumer interest.