If you're wondering why there are suddenly so many exciting new wines, look no further than the NFL. This past season, fans saw the impact of the youth movement on today's game, and a similar thing is happening in wine.
Some of the biggest stars in the NFL last year were rookie quarterbacks: Andrew Luck of the Colts, Robert Griffin III playing for the Redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks. Colin Kaepernik of the 49ers was a second-year pro, but essentially a rookie.
What allowed these four to succeed so fast is that they were prepared for the pro game. They've played in systems beginning in high school and earlier that mimic the pro sets. They are coached to read defenses, avoid sacks, throw the right passes (or throw them away), manage the clock and make snap judgments at a much younger age. It used to be years before a college quarterback could step into a starting role. Now they're ready right out of college.
Wine drinkers are starting to see younger winemakers able to craft rather amazing wines a few years out of college. One reason is that winemakers have plenty of job opportunities, even if they're cellar rats, and can work two harvests a year, first in the southern hemisphere and then in the northern. They know what grapes and regions and styles they prefer, and are better equipped to apply that knowledge earlier on. And it's not just winemakers. You see the progress at every level, from vineyard managers to chemists to sommeliers. In California, grapegrowing has been part of some school curriculums for over a decade; there are even high school vine-pruning teams.
Thanks to a wealth of shared knowledge that just wasn't available to previous generations, these young wine pros simply have a stronger skill set at an earlier age than their predecessors did.
Will we ever see a 21-year-old superstar winemaker? I imagine we will. Twenty-one may be the legal age for drinking, but there isn't one for winemaking, and plenty of young people enjoy and appreciate wine well before they reach that age.
It's not uncommon for winemakers and wineries to rise to the top in their first few vintages, so there's every reason to believe there will be more great wines from younger vintners than most could fathom just a few years ago. Of course, just as with the electrifying but already injury-hobbled RG3, as soon as that straight-out-of-college winemaking superstar arrives, we'll be asking how long they can keep performing at an elite level.