Free to choose

I am fairly certain that capitalism and democracy have some serious compatibility problems. But I do believe in the free market, and have been marveling at what it has done to retail prices in the wine world since the economy went semi-kaputski.

A lot of waaaay-overpriced wines started showing up at less ridiculous tariffs, and some wineries that had gotten complacent, or been commoditized by conglomerates, had to seriously slash prices at the lower ends. Sometimes the latter course didn’t make a difference. Plonk, after all, is not a bargain at any price.

But the combination of tough times and grape gluts put a severe hit on perhaps capitalism’s best friend, brand loyalty. Often in the past 2-plus years, it hasn’t mattered how much someone had liked a spendy wine, especially in the $20-$60 range: Consumers simply started looking elsewhere.

I had done this years earlier with a $50-ish wine. In the late ’90s, I stumbled across a wonderful Central Coast red blend from Treana: hearty and delicious, with great depth and length, and a good value at around $30. I drank it regularly for a few years. Then, with the 2001 vintage, the price made a Michael Jordan-like vertical leap, from $32 straight to $52.

I’m not sure if I stopped buying it because the abruptness (and arrogance?) of a 63-percent hike chapped my ass, or if I just felt as though it flat-out wasn’t worth the new price. A little of both, probably. Regardless, I haven’t bought a bottle of Treana since.

Recently I received a sample of the wine (now designated Paso Robles rather than Central Coast). I’m not as big a fan of its jammy style as I was back in the day, but the 2007 has really tasty fruit, lovely tannins and the depth and length that I recall.

So I can recommend the wine because it’s really good, but I probably won’t be buying any myself. My “brand loyalty” went away seven years ago when the tab leapfrogged.

And while I’m surprised that Treana has been able to maintain the $52 tab — although cheaper alternatives are available — through recent tough times for others, I’m not displeased. Obviously, other consumers have remained loyal to the brand — and that’s the beauty of the free market, for all concerned.

Leave a Reply