I recently wrote about a wine brand out of the Central Coast which is designed to be a line of non-vintage wines. In the conversation I had with winemaker Austin Hope, Austin was very enthusiastic about the idea of making all of his company’s wines as non-vintage wines.
This is not a novel idea. Not all that long ago, almost all California wines were made in this manner. It was a way to make good wines, optimally consistent with the house style. Historically (and probably all over the world), it seems, vintage designation was used to mark exceptional wines from a single year in which the wine needed no help or tweaking. Other years, wine was blended from various lots.
While the trend towards vintage-designated labeling in mid-twentieth century California was as much about marketing as varietal labeling was, some things come to my mind:
Vintage variation does exist in California. I can smell and taste it – as can others. There are some who dismiss this variation, citing a constancy of California climate. However, while it may not be drastically varied, the climate in the Golden State does change year to year and it does seem to go in cycles. Ultimately, the fact that winemakers want to make non-vintage or multi-vintage wines to bring together the best features of each lot is proof that wines from the same vineyard and made by the same hands vary year to year.
So, then, how important is vintage to most consumers? I suppose the question really is: how much do most consumers care about vintage in California wines? Although I and others can sense differences between different vintages of California wines, these differences are not as dramatic as they are in France, for example.
It’s pretty much assumed (and probably demonstrated in some study) that consumers perceive vintage-designated wines as superior. How many can tell a difference between one vintage and another or a vintage wine and a non-vintage wine is another matter.
So, even if the variation in California vintages is subtle and not discernible to most, one more question comes to mind:
One of the things achieved when making multi-vintage wines is a product with characteristics of both young and mature wines. Blended vintage wines can fall pretty much anywhere on this spectrum. So my question is: how much mature character do wine consumers want in their wines?
Young wines express fresh fruit characteristics and mature wines evolve a more complex character which moves away from well-defined, bouncy fruit. With mainstream preferences leaning towards fresh fruit, can blended vintage wines showing a more mature character be commercially successful?
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