This year's harvest is a prime example of why you should not bother too much about what you read in vintage ratings tables.
Last Friday I was in Champagne, at Chassenay d'Arce, an interesting cooperative in southern Champagne in Aube. Everyone was happy. The harvest had started about a week before and it was the penultimate day of harvest. The sun shone. Smiles all over. Summer has been warm, almost too hot, and definitely too dry. But in late August came two days with just enough rain to refresh the grapes. Then came ten days with near perfect weather.
The day before, on the Thursday, I met thirty champagne producers in Paris and the harvest was certainly a hot topic. Some had basically finished, others were in the midst of the harvest. Still others had not begun, but would start the following day, on Saturday.
Saturday morning I woke up to pouring rain. The rain pours down almost all day, often with impressively strong storm winds that tore at everything that was loose. Leaves and grapes for example.
Those who harvested early had almost perfect conditions. Those who harvested late, well who knows? If it will continue raining then it will be difficult.
For some, it becomes an almost perfect year. For others it can be dreadful.
As it looks now, though, the forecast for the days ahead looks pretty decent so all may go well. But it could equally be the opposite. A 10 out of 10 vintage rating for some, 3 out of 10 for others.
Moreover, it may very well be that it is pouring rain for a week in Epernay, but brilliant sunshine one hour and a half further south in Champagne-Aube. Hypothetically, that is.
Similar things could happen in any district. Flooding in the Languedoc (yes), forest fires in California (yes), drought Tuscany, etc. But only affecting some, not others.
But there are other reasons not to care much about vintage tables.
Today, there are really no excuses to make bad wine, a bad harvest. Winemakers have (should have) the knowledge and the technology to make good, but maybe not excellent, wine even in more difficult years. Sorting tables, temperature control, well-tended vineyards etc. Bad years are history. Today it's more about different character from year to year.
Perhaps there is one context where it can be important to keep an eye on vintage tables. When you buy wine as an investment object (but I hope you do not!). The investment market for wine is not determined primarily by the quality of the wine which is traded but by what people think about the quality (not necessarily the same thing). Or perhaps more accurately, what opinionated experts have said about the quality. The wine is not bought to be drunk anyway so it's more a matter of rumours, image, and of the vintages that are trending. But that said I hope this is not what primarily drives your interest in wine.
(But perhaps I should not reject them altogether. They can be useful sometimes. And we at BKWine are also part of the advisory committee putting together the International Wine & Food Society’s annual vintage chart…)
Origin information: BKWine