May 25, 2015

What Makes A Good Vintage?

The 2014 vintage will ultimately go down as one of the Hunter’s finest. The media hype surrounding the vintage is well and truly vindicated by the glowing smiles on the winemaker’s faces. Exciting stuff! Bring it on!

So what is a “good” vintage? It’s kind of subjective when you think about it. I guess it’s more of a collective agreement among the wine fraternity of a particular area. Or is it? Even that can be misleading. One could safely profess that it is completely weather dependent. But the more established and reputable vineyards may claim that they are less affected, from a quality perspective, than some of the less established and less reputable vineyards. Put it this way, I have grown up around wine my entire life and I have yet to hear too many winemakers tell it how it is……
“So what was your vintage like?”
“It was s#$%!!”
“So do you think I should buy anything from you this year?”
“Hell no!!”

Ok, enough said, moving along. Would it be unsportsman-like for me to throw the gauntlet out here and ask the question, “How many wine drinkers actually take the vintage into consideration?” Now, I am leaving out of this those who are “wine enthusiasts”. One of the most important aspects of drinking wine is the vintage. To a wine enthusiast, this is common sense, yet, as the great saying goes, “common sense is not that common.”  Mind you, do those same enthusiasts take into account the varietal clone, soils, trellis assembly, cropping levels, stylistic aptitude etc etc. Possibly, possibly not.

So what was the question again? Oh yeah…what is a good vintage?
I can tell you this story now, as time has since passed. In 2001 the Hunter copped a bit of inclement weather for the reds. Having come off a long string of incredible vintages in ‘98, ‘99 and ‘00, it was a challenge to string together a line of reds which would show up as premium products. In those days, before I bottled any wine, I would seek the council of the great Len Evans (I didn’t have to go far – he lived around the corner – but “seeking council” sounds debonair and makes for a better story). Len and I spent a few hours conversing on this particular day. The idea I had in my head was that the wines were not of the quality that had historically been made at Marsh Estate, and I had all but made a call to not bottle them, but simply on-sell the wine to a commercial company. Len strongly debated with me that the wines, although not as weighted as the
aforementioned vintages, were an intimate reflection of a great vineyard and world class (I’m pretty sure he said world class – ha) winemaking. He attested that very quickly the wines would settle well in the bottle and be more than okay to place into the market.  Now here’s the part of the story I love. As he was leaving on this particular afternoon, he turned and claimed that at the ten year tasting, held each year to taste all the ten year old reds from the more established and reputable vineyards, that they would be shining. I looked at him in disbelief. Ten years later, in 2011, I attended the tasting with Bruce Tyrrell and Rod Kempe of Lakes’ Folly, and we were blown away by the quality of our wines. Not only were they sound, they were great wines! I am far from exaggerating when I tell you that the wines that we still receive pictures or emails and references for, are the 2001 reds, and I nearly didn’t put a label on them.

So what’s a good vintage? Hhhhhhmmmm............I’m glad we cleared that up. 

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