What makes one year’s wine vintage better than another?

If you’re serious about collecting wine for investment, it’s critical to understand what goes into making a great wine vintage. The Ideal Wine Company Collector’s Guide is the perfect place to get an overview of where to start in wine investment. 

But how do collectors and investors choose one vintage over another from the same vineyard? What sets one year apart from another? Why is one year’s production highly sought after, while another is much lower in value? Here are some answers.

What is a wine vintage?

We’ll start with the basics first. What exactly is a wine vintage? Simply put, it is the year that winemakers picked the grapes for a particular bottle. It may sound straightforward, but there are a number of important factors that go into making a particular year’s crop of grapes better than another.

The quality of the process and the ability of the winemakers themselves is crucial, of course. The timing of the harvest, when the vines are pruned and how well they manage pests are all significant. One poor decision can easily lead to wine of a lower quality.

But the winemaker’s broader vision for their wines also contributes to a great vintage. A winemaker who thinks longer term is more likely to make the right growing, harvesting and making decisions year-on-year. It’s why it pays to get to know the winemakers you respect, and to follow their careers closely.

We talked about an example of this recently in terms of champagne production. The top champagne makers only release premier cuvées when the conditions are exactly right. They maintain their good name with investors as a result.

How does the climate affect the making a great wine vintage?

Most of the growing and harvesting decisions that the winemaker takes are usually in response to the weather. An experienced grower will know how to respond to everything from hard spring frosts to wet summers and damp harvests. All of these factors and the quality of a maker’s response to them impact the investment value of a particular vintage. The wrong weather can even badly impact an entire year’s production.

To create a vintage wine harvest, the most critical factor is the amount of sunshine during that growing season. This directly impacts the rate and amount that the grapes ripen on the vine. Too much sunshine and the grapes raisinate. Too little sun (or too much wet, cloudy weather), and the grapes are less likely to ripen and more likely to rot.

Crucially, it’s worth remembering that not all grape varieties respond in the same way. So, if you have a favourite producer, understand how the weather in that region impacts the wine variety they use. And before choosing a particular vintage, research the specific weather that year. Finally, in regions where the weather is more consistent, vintage is less important. Unpredictable weather is unlikely to impact growers in Australia, California or even South Africa. It’s why they produce wines of a similar quality year on year.