We talk a lot about "Ultra-Premium" Cabernet Sauvignon. What exactly does the term "Ultra Premium" mean?
It's used in at least two different, but related, ways:
- A wine market segment
- A wine quality description
Let's look at each usage, and see if we can come to some common understanding of what we're talking about and whether it matters.
The Ultra-Premium Wine Segment
Probably the most common use of the term "ultra premium" is to describe a segment of the wine market.
Marketing folks like to define market segments—subsets of the market that have some characteristic in common. If done correctly, market segmentation can help to better understand buying behavior.
Unfortunately, if you like to drink fine wine, you'll probably find most segmentations of the wine market to be useless.
Why? Because fine wine is only a minuscule corner of the wine market. Most attempts at segmentation are trying to understand the much larger market for less expensive wine.
For example, the most common way to segment the wine market is by bottle price. The exact price ranges can differ based on who's doing the segmentation, but typical segments are:
- Value: $2.99 and below
- Fighting varietal: $3 to $5.99
- Popular premium: $6 to $7.99
- Premium: $8 to $9.99
- Super Premium: $10 to $14.99
- Ultra Premium: $15 and above
A $15 bottle of wine is "Ultra Premium"?!? There seems to be some serious title inflation going on here.
Ultra Premium Wine Quality
The other use of the term Ultra-Premium is to describe the quality of the wine.
Again, people will differ in exactly how they define this term. But there are several factors that seem to be part of most definitions.
Ultra-Premium wines are those that are:
- Made with grapes from vineyards with great "terroir" and farmed to the highest standard
- Produced with great attention to quality
"Terroir" is a French word for the "place" where the grapes are grown. It is a somewhat abstract concept the includes localized climate, soil type, drainage, wind direction, humidity and all the other attributes which make one location different from another.
Saying that Ultra Premium grapes need to have great terroir is just another way of saying that they need to come from a great place for growing grapes.
What about the rest of the definition. Doesn't everyone farm to the highest standard and produce wine with great attention to quality. Nope.
Making wine is a business. Exacting farming and winemaking costs money. There's no point in spending money for quality that your customers will never notice.
Why Produce Ultra-Premium Quality Wine?
While it's true that many wine drinkers would not notice the quality that went into making a true Ultra-Premium wine, there is a (relatively) small segment of the market that can tell the difference and are willing to pay to get it.
Producers that make true Ultra-Premium wine are aiming for this much more limited segment.
Because this segment is so small (compared to the market as a whole), these producers tend to be quite small.
Because making wine of such quality is expensive (at least when compared to making the high-volume popular wines), their prices tend to be higher than the average.
What Do You Think?
How do you decide which wines to buy? By price? By quality? By some combination of the two?
What is your personal standard for how much you're willing to give up in wine quality for a lower price?
Image by BullionVault via Flickr