Stark Sips: Benefactor Cellars

When it comes to pricing a bottle of wine, other-worldly minions are summoned, tribal rituals are performed, and psychics are consulted.

We celebrate the generosity of your death.
Oh erstwhile unstoppable wine market!
2010 Benefactor Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
And the scariest item in this photo is ... ?

Yes, I’ll try just about any wine. And that includes ones that are simply labeled for a specific occasion, like… Halloween. When I saw these spooky bottles from Benefactor Cellars at a Trader Joe’s in Silicon Valley I had to smile for two reasons: (1) TJs knows how to merchandise- their stores are unique, and it’s a place where the staff seem to love what they do; and (2) the labels are just too cool to resist. Superficial? You bet. But for only $4.99/bottle I was willing to take a ghastly risk.

First, a word on wine pricing: pay no attention to that (pricing) wizard behind the curtain. When it comes to assigning a price to a bottle of wine, other-worldly minions are summoned, tribal rituals are performed, and psychics are consulted. It’s as much an art as it is a science. Some aristocratic wine connoisseurs, for example, would never touch a wine under $100. Leave the cheap juice for the 99%! An arbitrary decision to price a bottle intentionally high could win their business just because it’s not cheap. Most of us, I’m guessing, don’t buy wine that way — we want to know about the winemaker, the vintage, the terroir, etc. From the producer side, grape prices, of course, play a huge part, and will impact cost-basis pricing models.

The correlation between price and quality, though, is a crapshoot. Someone should do a study and calculate an overall beta, like the stockmarket. I suspect it would be low. When I worked for a Paris-based software company in the 2000s, the CEO would swing in to town (he was, oddly, a huge Chris Farly fan – “Funny American!” yet routinely flew the ORY-JFK concorde at $15K a pop – seemed like a contradiction of sorts) and take us to a place like Zibibbo in Palo Alto to talk business. Wine would always come first. I heard the pronouncement many times, “Clint (you ridiculous American/Canadian), I’m convinced there is no connection between price and quality!” He was convinced that people put too much emphasis on price: if it’s expensive, it must be good. Or, at the very least, it would impress. No, no no, he would say. When the waiter came around minutes later, he’d then promptly order the most expensive Bordeaux on the menu.

We celebrate the generosity of your death.
Oh erstwhile unstoppable wine market!

Oh erstwhile unstoppable wine market!

So I get much satisfaction in finding that unheralded bottle, sitting neglected on a shelf somewhere, be it Whole Foods, TJs, Bevmo, Costco (yes, I shop at stores, ignore those that thumb their noses at “beverage” wines). I’ve found super Riesling from Chateau Ste. Michelle, decent Chardonnay by Toasted Head, and smooth whites from La Crema, all without breaking the bank. Some day I may get to touch our cellared Harlan, or Scarecrow, but meantime us oenophiles need to survive day-to-day, yes?

I celebrate the generosity of your death.

Which brings me to these Benefactor Cellars wines from South Eastern Australia.

Okay, let me recant: sometimes price does matter.

Sometimes a $4.99 bottle tastes the part (the white comes out ahead, though, by a long shot).

Sometimes you can imagine a clever distributor taking some less than acceptable vino, and cleverly deciding to market it with a clever label hoping to snare someone less clever.

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