“Vintage” is a word we use commonly, but do you know what the word actually means for wine? Vintage refers to the harvest period when the grapes are ripe and can be picked – typically this happens in September and October in the northern hemisphere (France, Spain etc), and February and March in the southern hemisphere (Australia, Argentina etc). As we head into the Australian and New Zealand vintage period (a frantic time for winemakers!) we’ll bring you updates from around those regions – it’s a great way to get a feel for how the wines of different years will start their life. As a rule, white grapes (for white wine) are picked first, which locks in those lovely fresh, crisp flavours. A few weeks later and it will be the turn of the red grapes (for red wine) to be picked. This gives the red grapes longer in the warm summer and autumn days to ripen fully and develop rich and generous characters that are so important in the finished wine. The time of harvest also varies from one region to another across the country – generally the hottest regions will be picked first, as the grapes ripen more quickly, while the cooler regions will take a few weeks more to get to the perfect ripeness.
Once the wine has been made from the grapes picked during that vintage/harvest, the wine can be labelled with the year – so for grapes picked in March 2015 in Australia, the wines can be labelled ‘2015’. It doesn’t matter when the wine was blended, bottled or shipped to the store – if a year is shown on the label it only relates to when the grapes were actually harvested. Some wines, especially sparkling wines from Champagne, might be labelled ‘non-vintage’ or ‘NV’ – this is because they are made up of wines from a number of different years, rather than a single year. Why? Traditionally regions like Champagne can experience quite different weather and conditions each harvest, which results in wines with different flavours and characters each year. So to produce a consistent wine each year (in a ‘house style’), the winemakers have become very skilled at blending wines from across different harvests to even out these annual differences.
At Merchants however we are a collective of small, independent and artisanal winemakers from Australia and New Zealand. As such, the wines we sell sometimes show some slight variation in style from one year (or vintage) to the next, and we think this is a unique part of their story. Great wines talk about the soil and the climate they are grown in, as well as the skill of the families making the wines. Its also worth noting that during the year we will sell out of certain wines – some of our wines are (lovingly) made in tiny quantities, so its worth putting a few of your favourites in the cellar when they are available. Both these things are what we love about artisan winemaking – its easy to become used to big brand wines being available all year round and tasting the same every vintage, but we celebrate the different story behind each vintage and are excited every year as the new wines are released.
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