How much is too much for wine?

DAVENPORT, Iowa — This last February, Johnny Depp made headlines when a report came out from his former business associates that the actor and icon spent approximately $30,000 per month on wine. No, that number doesn’t have an accidental extra zero added on. That’s thirty thousand dollars, spent each month on wine.

To me, as a college student, that number seemed absolutely ridiculous. With a budget that usually gets sectioned into 90 percent necessary bills and 10 percent fun and games, a couple beers a month can sometimes run my “fun” budget dry, and that’s if I even want to spend it on drinks. Spending more than what I make a year in one month, on a non-necessity, blew my mind.

However, in reading articles about it through sites such as Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times, I was surprised at how unsurprised many of the writers and critics were of this amount of money. Bill Goldstein, a wine investor, told the Wall Street Journal that Mr. Depp’s wine expenditures were, frankly, underwhelming. Even those who are not wine experts were not that surprised at Depp’s wine budget.

“It’s something a lot of our social activities are based around,” Joe Schroeder, philosophy major at Ambrose said. “So if you reach a certain status, it makes sense to me. I don’t find it that shocking, that he spends that much. It’d be more shocking if he bought wine that I could afford. Once you reach that level, quality becomes a necessity. In any hobby, you want to reach a point where quality beats out quantity.”

“If I could afford to do that, and the budget line was there, I might do that too,” he added.

According to Wine Business, a site which focuses on the lifestyle and hobby of wine drinking, in a 2016 survey of American Wine preferences, 95 percent of their random sample said they had bought wine in the past year. However, 72 percent also reported that price was the largest determining factor in buying wine. What the price was, the poll did not say. But Americans are conscious of the price they spend on alcohol.

Kristen Harrington attends Ambrose, and is working towards her MBA. For her, drinking can be fun with friends, but is not a personal hobby.

“I don’t consider myself a very big drinker,” she said. “I like beer. I feel like for someone in their late 20s, early 30s, if you go out every Friday and every Saturday… Well, I would spend $120 a month on beer. And if you go out, you have to tip the bartender.”

“As of late, I’ve not been going out that much. Normally I’ll go to Old Chicago on Fridays with a friend. I figure I go out four times a month, and while I’m there I’ll have two or three beers, at $5 a pint while I’m eating.”

NPR reports that, as of 2012, the average American spends at least 1 percent of their income on alcohol per month. For example, if you made $5000 per month, then $50 a month on alcohol is, according to their report, normal. However, the numbers change for those who make both more, and less, of the average income. It also varies on what the person’s interests are.

“It depends on if you are a beer drinker, a wine drinker, or hard liquor,” Harrington said.

This certainly is true. If you are a beer drinker, a run of the mill six pack may cost you anything from $5-20, whereas the fanciest beers in the world only seem to run from $70-150, with only a couple very rare exceptions. The most expensive beer ever sold was an Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, brewed in 1875 for an arctic expedition. It sold on Ebay for an astounding $500,000.

Wine has the most diverse of the prices, with cheap wine being available for $5, and the price cap seeming to be cut off around $100,000. There have been some exceptions at auctions, including a bottle of Chateau Margaux 1787 that was once in the personal collection of Thomas Jefferson that sold for $225,000. However, the average price for some exquisite wine seems to be anything from $30-70,000.

With Whiskey and Scotch, the prices are a little higher. Whereas there are outliers on both the high and low end, even a cheaper bottle of scotch may cost you anywhere from $50-150. Macallan, a Scottish distillery in Moray, puts out most of the high end scotch, with prices ranging from $75,000 a bottle to $650,000.

“The most I’d be willing to spend for a special bottle of what I want is $150,” Harrington said. “I have a friend who spent two grand on a bottle of bourbon.”

As I read NPR’s report, I realized that it would be fair to say I spend at least 1 percent on alcohol each month as well, if not a little bit more. As someone who prefers whiskey or scotch, a $25 bottle of whiskey is fairly normal, and lasts me a couple weeks. This is well within the 1 percent, and has never burdened my budget. Just recently, with some of my tax refund money, I budgeted a little more towards that than usual, and bought a $70 bottle of Glenmorangie, a 10 year whiskey. With the tax money accounted for, this was still within my 1 percent. So how do Depp’s expenditures compare?

Forbes reports Johnny Depp’s net worth to be approximately $400 million, and his average yearly income to be $48 million. If he spent $30,000 a month on wine, that totals to $3.6 million on wine every year. That is not even 1 percent of his income. So though I was surprised, that does establish him to be within the average American standard for alcohol spending, percentage wise. His income and budget for alcohol spending are simply elevated far above the average American.

However, the natural followup question then is, what is an acceptable amount that a person should spend on their hobby? Critics of Depp have pointed out that $30,000 on wine is incredibly superfluous, and could be spent on charity, the green movement, or other world changing projects. However, then what reason do any of us have for our money spent on hobbies, vacations, and enjoyment?

“Why don’t you just buy rice and bread, and drink water?” Schroeder pointed out. “What justifies a price when money isn’t an issue?”

According to National Philanthropic Trust, the average American gives $2,974 in charitable donations every year. Most of this money went to religious organizations, with the other largest beneficiaries being education, health, and grant foundations. Depp himself is known not to be unfeeling towards charities, receiving a Courage to Care award from the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital for his continued donations.

So, we have established that Americans, Depp included, care about charities and giving to others. But, how does that compare to money spent on hobbies? And in some cases, how do you even quantify how much you spend on some hobbies?

“Right away, I think about guitar players,” Schroeder said. “They’ll buy like, million dollar guitars, all the time.”

Playing guitar is a popular hobby, but not everyone realizes the cost of playing like a pro. For someone looking to play a quality, recording level guitar, a good Gibson, Fender, or Taylor may cost anything from $1,500 – 3,500. Yes, you can buy a run-of-the-mill guitar for $300. But, if music and playing guitar is the hobby that you love, would it be a bad decision to spend money to purchase a good, recording level guitar? Again, how much is too much?

Auctioned guitars also run up a pretty penny, with guitars played by Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix being sold for nearly $2 million. Whereas these are hand crafted, excellently made guitars, is that price unreasonable?

“People would spend $20,000 on a quarter, a 25 cent piece. Just because of the value put on it, the year it was made.” Schroeder said.

Chris Banfield, a service technician in the IT department at Ambrose, has been riding bikes since he was young. Now that he’s older, his once summer pastime has turned into a full time hobby.

“I used to just ride mountain bikes when I was younger,” he said. “Then I wanted to bump up to the next level — be faster, go longer. Then I wanted to continue getting better, and ride more.”

The bike he has now is representative of the effort he has put into his hobby.

“You at least need to spend $1,200, if you wanted a good, decent bike. But I’ve upgraded it over the years. I’ve probably pumped at least a grand or more into it. The wheel set I got lucky, they were only $400 a piece. They’re usually at least a thousand.”

However, even accounting for the money that he has put into the bike, Chris didn’t feel like the cost of his hobby is so clear cut. Since he bikes nearly everywhere he can, including to his job every day at Ambrose, he feels he has an economic advantage over those who don’t have that opportunity.

“The amount of money I save in gas outweighs the cost of riding all the time,” he said.

When I lived in New York, in the Adirondack mountain range, hiking was a popular hobby among many of my friends. If you asked one of them how expensive a hobby hiking was, they would likely answer that hiking is free. And at first glance, yes, walking on a mountain is probably mostly free. However, what do they count in their hobby? Some of the mountains are trails in which you do have to pay a fee to climb and enjoy — usually, something as cheap as $10 a person or less — just to help pay the staff for upkeep of trails and stopping points. But if it is going to be a long hike, a backpack might be necessary for the trail. Maybe some snack bars, a nice water bottle, some good hiking shoes and even athletic clothes. Does that count as price put into your hobby? Many of the mountains were also scattered around the state, and would take up to two and a half hours to drive to. Does the gas money count as money put into your hobby? Lastly, a full hike would take the better part of a day. That’s an entire day you could spend doing something else productive. Does that count as money spent on your hobby?

 
Perhaps, the lesson learned here is we should not care so much about how much Johnny Depp spends on his hobby for expensive wine. Adjusted to compare to our resources, and our budget for our hobbies, is it really so different? Hobbies can come in all shapes and sizes, from the simple and cheap, to the expensive and expansive. As long as it does not overburden your budget, who is to say what price is too high a price for enjoyment?

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