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Yao's $625 Cabernet Stands Tall

Catching up with Tom Hinde, Yao's winemaker, after tasting the premiere 2009 vintage
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Apr 16, 2012 4:30pm ET

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.

Andrew J Walter
Sacramento , CA —  April 16, 2012 6:57pm ET
To spend that much money on wine, you need to have more dollars than sense (for newbie Cali cult cabs and first growths alike) but its certainly a "slam dunk" for California if he can sell out. Good luck to him
Greg Flanagan
Bethel CT —  April 17, 2012 8:54am ET

Gotta ask....what'd you score the wines?

And does Yao have any input/say regarding the making of these wines?
Michael Schulman
Westlake Village, CA —  April 17, 2012 1:05pm ET
Gimme a break! "...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." tells all. Since when is charging a price for wine from somewhere else based on what a particular Bordeaux growth ranking is, in any way related to the quality (or value) of the wine. To me this is a joke; but then again so is the manipulation of prices by the Bordeaux chateaux.
Joseph Byrne
Gardiner NY —  April 17, 2012 11:18pm ET
I like the notion the price is based on the cost of making the wine, if only that was true of all wines.
Do you know what a typical Napa Cabernet ton of grape produces? Is it close to 2 barrels (600 bottles) after the 2 years of aging due to evaporation?
If that is true then roughly these numbers could be the following for the cost of the wine.
The cost for the grapes is around $1.59M for the 106 tons of grapes at $15,000 per ton for 63,600 bottles they produced. If they used 100% French oak for ALL the barrels, which cost @$1,000ea, then that is 212 barrels for a total of $212,000. Winemakers can cost $250,000 per year in Napa, so if the wine ages for 2 years that’s another $500,000. Not sure what the custom crush facility costs, so maybe guess real high $500,000 per year. Cost of making the wine is @$3.3M for the 2 years?
They made 3600 bottles of the reserve and 60,000 bottles of the second and at $625 and $175 respectively that is $12.75M, US prices.
As the saying goes, “If you want to make a small fortune in wine, start with a large one.”
Thanks, Joe
Lawrence Newcombe
bay city, mj —  April 18, 2012 11:05am ET
I believe he did rate it , read closer... the discription just says "WELL STRUCTURED" with the normal traits of cab. My guess is that it did not hit the 90 critique + range. I just could not hear any WOW in his written words .
Aaron Meeker
Kansas City, KS —  April 18, 2012 11:26am ET
This is simply absurd and against every good thing about wine. Mirrors the cost of production??? Hardly. Good for him for selling it out. Clearly China has its wine priorities in different places than the rest of the world. The luxury good market is booming evidently.

A first release of Napa Cab at $600/btl??? Even "The Todd" wouldn't do that.
Mark Sears
Teaneck, NJ —  April 18, 2012 4:22pm ET
Is this for real? Once again we see that price is only a guide to... well, price. Let them keep it all.
Doug Ingalls
Corvallis. OR —  April 24, 2012 7:05pm ET
I have always hoped the Chinese would continue to ignore Napa wine while concentrating on the French. Yao's move into California could open some eyes in China, as well as pocketbooks. That wouldn't bode well.

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