Creating Vintage Charts

Oct 19, 2006

Jesse Calderon has a great question about how I arrive at vintage chart ratings.

I'm sure my colleagues will be glad to share their thoughts on this subject as well, since we all have our own ways of analyzing vintage quality.

Rating vintages is a bit of a moving target. By that I mean that in California the wine scene changes significantly each year. New producers arrive. Some wineries go out of business, or lose a key vineyard, which can change the character of a wine.

So I’m not measuring the same wineries and estates each year, as is the case in an area such as Bordeaux. There, the estates essentially produce wine from the same property year after year and you don’t have great changes in grape sources or new châteaus.

Basically, I use a system that relies on the percentage of outstanding wines from a given appellation. I also take into consideration weather and winemakers and grape grower analyses, especially those who work with a wide range of grapes and not just a single vineyard.

You’ll notice that in the past few years, I’ve broken down the grape varieties into smaller appellations and I’ll continue to do that as I see fit.

With Pinot Noir, for instance, this year (in our Dec. 15 issue), I’ve added Anderson Valley to our vintage chart. Until recently there haven’t been enough Anderson Valley Pinots to compile a vintage chart that I felt comfortable with. But there are now perhaps 20 or more Pinots that I reviewed from there this past year, and I decided I’d rather have some vintage rating than none at all.

In areas such as Sonoma, with Chardonnay, before deciding to lump all the appellations (Alexander, Russian River and Sonoma valleys and Sonoma Coast ) together, I broke them down into individual appellations.

What I found is that for purposes of a vintage chart—and a general overall rating—the areas were more similar than different each year and followed a general pattern that works for a vintage chart.

I did the same with Santa Barbara Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, looking at both Santa Maria Valley and Santa Rita Hills. Eventually, as more wines emerge from those two appellations, it may make sense to break those appellations apart.

Thw bottom line is that I’m constantly trying to figure out the best way to reduce the vintage to a snapshot.

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