The Meaning of Vintage: Are There Best Years for Wine?

Posted August 30, 2018 in

What’s the Meaning of Vintage?

At its most basic description, the meaning of vintage is the year when a wine’s grapes were harvested. Even if two particular wines are from the same vineyard and are the same varietal, made with all the same techniques, a 2011 will taste quite different than a 2017. That differentiation affects price, availability and enthusiasm for a bottle. So what makes a vintage, and what vintages have stood out in the Chateau Grand Traverse vineyard?

Our Vintages: The Hardest and Best Years for Wine

The unique properties of Old Mission Peninsula’s terroir inform each vintage grown on our vineyard. Weather, specifically, is the most important factor influencing a varietal’s vintage. 2013 was a brilliant, warm year that boosted harvests for northern Michigan wines. In general, the microclimate created by being so close to both Grand Traverse Bays allows for a cool spring and warm fall, keeping the grapes on the vines into November in some cases. But 2013’s warm year was special. It led to the creation of the Chateau Grand Traverse 2013 Dry Riesling, a staff and customer favorite that WineMag gave a “best buy” designation and 90 points.

Of course, there were difficult years. In 2014, a brutal winter killed vines, and in 2015, early frosts and a hail storm in August ravaged harvests and left vines damaged as they went into winter hibernation. Luckily, bad weather doesn’t guarantee a lesser vintage, as some spring frosts can lead to a more concentrated wine, but the “perfect season” is a delicate balance that’s rarely found. The best years for wine are so different for every winemaker, hence the excitement over seeking a good vintage.

2016 was quite the bounce-back year, with idyllic conditions for our vinifera varieties of grapes, which we use for our Rieslings, Chardonnays, Pinot Blancs and Cabernet Sauvignons, just to name a few. The harvest in 2017 echoed the previous year, with a wonderful growing season that led to our delightful 2017 Pinot Noir Rosé Vin Gris. These years produced grapes that were well balanced and perfectly ripe, featuring an acidity that’s a trademark of Old Mission Peninsula wines. Good vintage years such as 2016 and 2017 also age extremely well, which is what makes them so valuable. There’s nothing quite like the enhanced flavor profile that comes from aging a fine vintage.

All Wines Matter, and So Do You

But what about the non-vintage wines? Wines without a vintage date are a blend of multiple years’ grapes and typically make an excellent house or dinner wine. Still, these non-vintage wines don’t tell a growing season’s story. They’re a homogenized product that can be tasty but less sexy and ponderable than vintage wines.

Vintages from climates such as ours – relatively unpredictable, with similarities to Bordeaux and west Germany’s wine country – produce superlative dry, semi-sweet and sweet wines. It’s no secret why our founder, Ed O’Keefe Jr., created Chateau Grand Traverse with the mission to produce world-class Rieslings in northern Michigan. But as Ed says, it’s not always about the vintage: “The best wine we make is the wine you like best.”

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