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William Hunter
October 14, 2019 | William Hunter

How Many Truly Great Vintages Do We Get in Our Life Time?

Often I hear that every year is a vintage year for wine in California, that there are no off vintages as there are in Europe.  This is a fallacy, not only are there mediocre vintages (e.g. 2004 and 2008) but also just decent, not great, vintages as are most but some vintages are actually bad (e.g.1989, 2011),   True, we have fewer off vintages than they do in Europe; California isn’t called the golden state for nothing, but certainly not everyone is a great one.  The last vintage that this winemaker feels that is great for Pinot Noir is the 2015 and interestingly surrounded by the excellent 2014 and 2016 and as I taste through the 2015’s they still have a beautiful, youthful freshness which I personally enjoy and lends to a significant amount of age ability, a sign of a great vintage.  We would like you to share in these library wines, library not in the traditional sense since they are only 5 years old and for a great vintage is still very much in its youth so if you haven’t already tried them and even if you have we’ll make it attractive to do so again.  We’re offering 2015 wines for the upcoming holiday season at a 40% discount with complimentary shipping on a case or more.
But what constitutes a great vintage?  Weather is most important generally and lack of rain during harvest specifically.  Crop load is also important, smaller crops make for more concentrated/flavorful wines.  But in the end it comes down to a certain indefinable something.  But getting back to the question at hand, how many truly great vintages do we get in our life time?  That depends on one’s age.  In my life time, keeping in mind I’m an old man, my first encounter would be 1968, 1974, 1978 and 1985 but since there wasn’t much in the way of good California Pinot Noir at that time the previous vintages are for Cabernet Sauvignon. Then in the middle nineties with the import of French Dijon clones California Pinot Noir vintages were truly evaluated.

However, vintage evaluation needs to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, since they can differ with in a mezzo-climate climate (usually called a micro-climate and therefore a misnomer, is the weather in a particular area within an appellation that can differ in soils and weather/rain fall) not to mention which media person you may be listening to.  Vintage interpretation like evaluating wines is so subjective the experts can’t even agree.  I also find it amusing that Cabernet vintages evaluated by the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate are head and shoulders above those of Pinot Noir which tells me they value Cabernet over Pinot Noir; I suppose we all can’t be true to our work?

But to finish up on this essay Pinot Noir vintages that I consider truly great in my life time are 1997, 2007, 2009 and 2015.  Not really very many in the scheme of things, so when one comes along take advantage.   But all good things come to an end so please be careful of anything too old and at this writing that would be most from the last decade or earlier.



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