We’ve been spending some time thinking about how we price the Harvest Plan service, and the discussion usually comes down to a relationship to what we call, here in Australia at least, a “block”. What does that mean? What is a block? How do we define it so we can use it sensibly in price-setting?

Some things are reasonably clear:

  • A block is a parcel of land
  • Usually bounded by a fence or wall; some physical boundary.

Other things are not so clear:

  • How big it is
  • How many grape varieties it might be home to
  • How much influence the final product use (e.g. sparkling v still wine) has on the definition.

Any “price per block” equation ultimately comes down to the question: what is a vintage planner interested in knowing about? Thinking about that question, it IS possible that a potential customer could define their block as the aggregation of ALL their land under vine that includes ALL the varieties they grow on that land, and tell us they have only one. I think that is about as likely as defining each single vine as a separate block … and for the same reason. Vintage planning and grape:product selection is a juggle between gathering enough data about the grapes to make good decisions, and the cost of collecting and analysing that data.

If your “block” of interest is too broadly defined then either the variances in the predictions and analyses from the data will be too large to be useful (even more so if multiple grape varieties are included), or the number of samples required to provide the appropriate accuracy would be uneconomical.

If it is too narrow a definition, then the time, effort and cost of sampling increases, and there is an element of diminishing returns where it is not clear that the additional cost gives you a useful increase in planning certainty. One of the potential outcomes of the pooling of vintage data is a better determination of the dimensions of a “block”, one that better balances the cost of sampling with the utility gained from it.

In the meantime, our working definition is that a block is the geo-located parcel of land containing a single grape variety that is of concern to a vintage planner. We’re not too fussed about the actual size – we believe that it is not in the planner’s interest to artificially inflate the size, and we’re confident that they’re keen to do their job better. More and more of the blocks of interest in Australia are being geo-located with latitude/longitude/elevation, and even mapped shapes in GIS systems, Google Earth or similar tools.

Grape variety is a key determinant, because the ripening characteristics of varieties can vary considerably and the final wine products can have very different fermentation and maturation regimes, so we use it as a logical boundary delineating a block.

The other possible variable is where a single variety has two very different uses – think of chardonnay and pinot noir, used in sparkling and still wines and picked at significantly different ripeness for each purpose. Given that the intended use doesn’t actually alter the maturation curve, there seems little point in considering that intended use as a determinant of the “pricing block” – the lower Baume for sparkling is just an earlier point in the same maturation that results in the still version. So at this point we ignore it for pricing; that is only like to change in the future if analysis of a larger pool of data indicates its utility.