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Vintage Year

  • The Vintage Tells the Story

    March 26, 2019 14:07

    The Vintage Tells the Story

    A year or so ago when talking to winemaker Montse Reece about our Zinfandel she summed it all up in one phrase: Zinfandel tells the story of every vintage. She said the wine, as it is poured into the glass and tasted, reflects what happened in the particular year from the growing season to the harvest season with the challenges and opportunities each one brings. Three of our recent vintages, 2015, 2016 and 2017, tell their own stories too. I’ll recapture what was going on in each of them and hope you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the road from budbreak to grapes to wine.

    2015 This was at the apex of the drought which began in 2012 and finally ended in 2017. The years in between saw the vines beginning to be stressed especially since 2014 had very little rain-less than half of the average amount. 2015 didn’t see much more. The vintage was defined by the drought with an early and fast growing season. We had early bud break followed by a warm growing season which turned hot and sped up the picking of the grapes-we finished harvest before September was over-typically we finish in October. Now this is the background of the vintage and a prelude of the fruit we took in that year. Vines were producing less of a crop-somewhere between 20-40% less. What this meant to the quality of the grapes and ensuing wine is a higher concentration of fruit because of the lower yields. Montse notes in her background on the vintage, “Mild acids, round tannins and high intensity of color and flavors dominate in this vintage.”

    2016 We see the beginning of the end of the drought in this vintage’s story. The winter brought enough rain to give the vineyards a good soaking and their recovery from the stress of the drought was apparent in the yields which were considered average. The wet spring gave way to an even growing season over the summer followed by an early start to harvest-because of a warm end of summer. Notes from Montse encapsulate it best: “Excellent quality, high intensity of aromas and bright acids.” In a nutshell 2016, while less concentrated, gained the development from a good amount of rain, an even growing season and the resulting wines reflect great character and depth of fruit.

    2017 Begins its’ story with double the average rainfall in the winter leading to a stress free growing season with vineyards being revitalized and nutrition restored. Montse wrote: “Rains during winter and the growing season helped restore the normal acid levels in the grapes.” She also wraps up the harvest and vintage in three words, “Concentration, Good and Heatwave”. We did get hit over Labor Day weekend just as harvest was moving along and some vineyards, not yet picked, were subject to high temperatures over three days. The race was on to make room in the cellar and pull in the grapes as they ripened and were ready for harvest. Overall this vintages’ story is one of extremes from an abundance of rain to the heatwave. The wine’s character, says Montse, has “deep aromatics, soft tannins and high acidity”. Hallmarks of a tasty vintage just waiting to be explored.

  • The Dating Game

    May 26, 2017 11:06

    The Dating Game

    The other day when taking guests on a tour of the cellar and other winery buildings we walked by a display of older vintages and labels from the 1960s through 1980s in our case goods warehouse. Since vintages are a part of my everyday life I tossed off a few points about the label changes over the years and the vintages themselves recalling if a particular vintage was considered ‘great’ or otherwise.

    I also pointed out the first year we vintage dated our wine which was 1965. Before this year we didn’t use vintages on our labels. The question came up ‘why is it important to feature the year on the label’? I pointed out it is tradition in the larger world of wine. We’ll often read about the great vintage years of (fill in the blank) or the bad years of… A few hundred years ago the first wines were vintage dated. Now we rely on this information to indicate a years' influence like the drought in 2015 or rain in 1989. Portugal declares 'vintage years' to signal exceptional quality. As a general rule, with a little digging on the internet, you can find out more about the growing and harvest conditions of each year which in turn will let you know what went on while the grapes were developing or being picked. 

    There are a couple of reasons why we didn’t date our wines before this point. One was we were making generic wines in gallons and half gallons and people were drinking these right away and not aging them. Going back even farther there wasn’t a need to vintage date as my grandfather literally bottled up the wine for them upon arrival-no vintage necessary as it was from the latest harvest and the label consisted of the name of the winery, the cellar number 113 and the town/state. We began dating our wines when the second generation, John and Jim, began the transition from jug wines to bottling our wines in cork finished bottles. It was with the idea that they would possibly be aged and, I suppose, it became more in vogue to put the vintage on the label making our wine more upscale as the U.S. market became educated about wine and labels. 

    A toast in my Dino with a splash of 1966 Cabernet Sauvignon-a very good year!