SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- When it comes to grapes, there's plenty to debate about what's in a bottle of California's Central Valley wine vs. one from Napa.
But in terms of cash, it's pretty simple: The amount of crushed grapes in a bottle of Napa wine costs, on average $4.34, while those from, say, Lodi go for just 52 cents, according to price data from the California 2007 grape harvest released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It takes about 2.7 pounds of crushed grapes to make one bottle of wine. While those grapes are the first -- and perhaps most critical -- ingredient, they're not the only factor in determining whether that cabernet sauvignon sells for $2 or $102.
It's the combined cost of crushing, fermenting, aging bottling, packaging and marketing that yields the price you pay.
There's no guaranteed formula for growing the sort of grapes that can become a $100 bottle. It has much to do with the grapes' origins -- the regional mix of soil, weather and reputation -- that consumers have learned to associate with quality and price. In other words, we're primed to expect a Napa wine to be worth more than a Lodi wine.
In Northern California, there's a vast range of values, from Mendocino's $1.63-a-bottle grapes, through the Sonoma valley ($2.77), Solano (88 cents) and the Sierra foothills ($1.44). At $4.34, Napa's grapes are the California industry's high-water mark.
Beyond grapes, the pricetag on an individual bottle adds up in multiple ways, from production through distribution.
It starts in the winery, where the expense of crushing and fermenting the grapes varies, depending on labor, economies of scale and other factors.
Packaging -- the bottle, label and cork or cap -- can cost as much as the grapes within, with heavy European glass running more than $2 a bottle.
Wineries with renowned reputations sell their wines to wholesalers at a substantial markup, as much as 150 percent. Wholesalers, in turn, add another 20 to 30 percent to the price; retailers an additional 15 to 30 percent.
That's why a bottle that a winery produces for $8 can cost you $20 or more.