The label on a wine bottle tells you the vintage year, which is also the year that the grapes were harvested. What the label doesn’t tell you is what happened that year and why you should choose one year over another.
For example, we are in a drought right now which we may not remember by the time the 2014 vintages are released two or more years from now. Pinot Noir grapes were picked and headed to be crushed by early August in Santa Ynez. Will the weather and picking early matter to what the wines taste like? Maybe, or maybe not.
I’m not a winemaker, but I do read articles that guestimate what to buy and what to drink now or hold. I find it infinitely more interesting to study what occurred during that vintage year in a broader range:
Weather – As this is what started this article off I will just add that too much of a shift in any direction will make a difference. However, it may or may not be discernable to you, or me.
Change of winemakers – This one I have noticed. At least twice. The same winery, vineyard and varietal were remarkably different to me; and then I found that a new winemaker had taken over. Keep in mind that a new winemaker would have to have been in place during the entire process; from planting, pruning, picking, etc., for it to make a large difference. I’ve met many winemakers that made sure that I know which wines I’m tasting have their own mark. Again, this may not be discernable to you, but it makes a difference and is worth thinking about.
Old vines verses newer vines – You may have noticed that the vineyard listed on your favorites winery’s 2014 Chardonnay isn’t the same as the one you bought a year ago. It could be a brand new grape-producing vineyard, or just a new vineyard that the winery purchased grapes from. Some wine drinkers know and espouse on the benefits of, say, a Howell Mountain, Napa, Cabernet Sauvignon. Is there a difference? To them, yes. And if you drink enough wine from Howell Mountain you will find it too. Again, it takes interest and study.
Organic and sustainable practices – There is also the possibility that a winery changed its vineyard practices to include organic or sustainable practices. (I have an entire other wine 101 article for my thoughts on that.) Incorporating owls to kill rodents, complete with building furnished little owl condos – the more attractive items inside will most attract said owl – are one of the latest things that wineries are doing. Does it affect the taste of the wine? Not likely, but the cost of the wine may be affected.
The conclusion is that now that you know a little bit more about vintage years…begs you to learn more. It’s amazing all of the things that go into one bottle of wine. Thanks for sharing my study of them.
Eve Bushman has been reading, writing, taking coursework and tasting wine for over 20 years. She has obtained a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has been the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and recently served as a guest judge for the L.A. International Wine Competition. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits that may be answered in a future column. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com