A wine’s vintage is as important as its grapes, vineyard and region. A vintage refers to the year that the wine was made, this encompasses the whole year rather than just when the grapes were harvested.
A good vintage will be one that has a good winter that enables the vine to remain dormant and rest before the new year. Spring should be mild with average rain, as vines don’t like too much water. A good summer will be nice and long, not too hot but with plenty of sunshine. This will be perfect grape-growing weather, with no adverse weather conditions, and will hopefully produce a top quality wine. Unfortunately ideal weather doesn’t guarantee a fine wine, as the winemaker still has make the final product.
Bad vintages can occur for many different reasons. A cold, sunless summer will mean the grapes won’t ripen fully. A summer that is too hot, as in most of Europe in 2003, makes the grapes ripen too much and these very sweet grapes make the vintage overly alcoholic. Too much rain on the other hand can cause grapes to rot. Frost, or even hail, can destroy vines, the canopies or the grapes themselves.
Vintages are so important that in the Douro valley in Portugal, where Port is made, the wine is only made commercially available in a ‘vintage’ year i.e. if it is deemed good enough quality. This preserves the reputation of the area’s wine and guarantees quality.