The Joys of “The Vintage”


As the leaves turn, all those lovely grapes have ripened and have been picked, as has happened recently, and started the long slow gentle process that has existed for thousands of years, of turning their juice into wine. Pleasure is what it is all about. Moderate pleasure of course.

The word “vintage” means the year the grapes were picked of course, and in the Northern Hemisphere this is usually in September. (Southern Hemisphere is around February time so some winemakers can actually oversee two vintages in one 12 month period. Clever. These are called “flying winemakers”.) I have witnessed first - hand the stress on the winemaker to decide exactly when to pick. And by “exactly when” I do mean that – it could be down to a couple of hours. Will it rain? Is hail on the way (this destroys everything)? If it is hotter tomorrow will this help? Are the sugar levels in the grape juice correct (this is checked constantly) to make the wine we are legally allowed to?  And so it goes on…….stressy. Get it wrong and a years’ toil – training the shoots, pruning, protecting against disease - can all go down the toilette/baño/banheiro/gabinetto etc.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the little matter of what the French call “Terroir”. Territory? Ground? Doesn’t really translate. So what is it? Well, my understanding is it’s the combination of soil type, the position of the vineyard, the climate. (Please send us your own definitions to And looking at good old Wikipedia it is something you can then affect by which grape variety, how you grow the grapes, pruning and of course the barrels you use etc etc. So if terroir wasn’t complex enough, you can change it. So you can say if a wine “reflects the terroir” or indeed has set out to not do that. Complex.

As I will repeatedly say, I know enough about wine to know I know nothing. (Not my quote, unfortunately.) Once I was encouraged to taste six differing chardonnay white wines – the same grape but from different regions or countries. A good thing to try at home if you are feeling rich, or get some friends to participate.  (If you do please send us some photo’s or comments to )The instant realisation of how different the same grape can taste from differing countries or regions of the same country, reality hits home. Infinite variety is available – and that defines the influence of “terroir”.

So much to learn.