Understanding The Conditions For A Perfect Vintage
We have all heard about them. The legendary 1961 Bordeaux vintage with their big, concentrated, great wines produced in the Medoc (e.g. 1961 Chateau Latour, Pauillac, 97 points). Then there was the exceptional year of 1999 for Burgundy with powerful, well-balanced and greatly concentrated wines particularly in the Cote de Beaune (e.g. 1999 Domaine Leflaive Batard- Montrachet Grand Cru, 94 points).
The term “vintage” simply refers to the year that the grapes for winemaking were harvested. Of course, there are certain variations depending on the area of the world we are talking about. In the Southern Hemisphere, a vintage on the wine bottle refers to the year in which the grapes were picked. While in the Northern Hemisphere, vintage dated wines state the year in which both the grape growing and picking occurred.
Regardless of geography, though, we all know that the statement, “It was a good year,” alludes to an outstanding vintage. There is a certain pride among collectors and enthusiasts in owning and drinking wine from such prestigious vintages when the “stars were all aligned” to produce delightful wines.
To know what constitutes a perfect vintage is to understand the concept of “terroir.” Terroir refers to the natural environment in which wine is produced. It is what gives wine a sense of place. Terroir includes soil (granite, loam, sand, etc.), topography (mountains, valleys, hills, etc.) and climate (cold, warm, moderate, etc.).When all these elements work harmoniously together, then the winemaker has the perfect raw material to make excellent wine.
To make excellent wine or to have a “very, very good year”, the grapes should have been grown, ripened and harvested in ideal conditions. And since these grapes are grown in different parts of the world with different types of climate, terrain and soil types, what makes a perfect vintage on one side of the world is not going to be the same in others.
A good vintage year in areas like Bordeaux and most of central and western Europe would mean a lot of sunshine. This is especially true during spring time and towards late July and August where average or higher than average temperatures lead to a normal or early harvest. Vintage years are considered bad when the climate has been invariably cool and/or wet, with below average sunshine.
In viticultural climates where it is hot and reliably sunny, on the other hand, the best years usually bring average or cooler than average temperatures. However, this does not necessarily apply to all table wines or all hot areas. As an example, in the very warm area of Hunter Valley in New South Wales Australia, cloudy, rainy and cooler summers may mean substandard red wines but may also still mean good quality whites.
The vine and the grapes respond to seasons and weather patterns differently depending largely on the soil type within a given region or area. For example, vines on well-drained, deep soils may hardly be affected by changes in the amount of rainfall but may mean death and destruction for vines planted in poorly drained soils. It is because of this that wine experts believe that the best vineyards, with favorable terroir are most likely to produce high quality wines year after year.
Vine varieties are as different as they come and can react quite differently to certain weather conditions. Grapes that tend to be tougher like Cabernet Sauvignon (especially in the Bordeaux region) has high tolerance for both heat and rain and is generally less affected by vintage differences. The Pinot Noir grape, with its thin skin and tight bunches, can be very sensitive to heat and direct exposure to sunlight. The Zinfandel, which is mostly planted in California and Puglia (where rain is not common during ripening season), does not take well to rain during harvest and may split and rot when exposed to too much water.
Critical Weather events
Weather disturbances that vary every year such as rainfall or hail have a direct effect on yield but that is not the only factor that may affect a specific vintage. Management decisions such as spraying, early harvesting or late harvesting due to these critical weather disturbances definitely play a big role in determining the quality of wine to be produced that year ,too.
A lot of rain during harvest, for instance, can dilute the grapes and make for flabby, uninteresting wines. Early harvesting, in this case, may just spell the difference between a good year and a bad year.
Sometimes the weather is the least of a wine producer’s concerns when it comes to producing superb wines. Market conditions may also dictate how certain viticultural practices are to be carried out in a vineyard to influence crop quality or yield (e.g. pruning, crop thinning, irrigation, etc.). If a certain area needs to make up for low yields the year before due to drought, for example, they may carry out irrigation that would definitely bring up the yields. This may mean more fruit but definitely less flavorful wines.
Outstanding wines from perfect vintages are rare and expensive for a reason. They can be opened now or kept for future enjoyment. Those who have some of the world’s best vintages in their collections will definitely want to keep them in the most ideal of conditions to enjoy for decades to come. In Asia, there is no better place for these prestigious wines but Singapore Wine Vault (SGVW). Situated in Singapore’s Fishery Port Road, SGWV is currently the largest wine storage facility in South East Asia. SGWV is equipped to hold 10 million wine bottles in strict temperature-controlled conditions. Discriminating wine collectors may also use The Drôme, a section dedicated to private wine cellars designed to be completely customizable to the client’s specifications.