Have you heard the term vintage used a lot and found yourself wondering what it actually means? With the 2023 vintage just around the corner we thought now might be an apt time for an explanation.
Whilst the term can cause confusion for some, the answer is really quite simple. Vintage refers to the year when a wine's grapes were harvested. This is why you might hear someone say "I love their Chardonnay—the 2015 vintage was superb and I much prefer it to the 2017!".
While it's not mandatory to include a vintage on a wine label (there are for example some non-vintage wines), if the claim is made you can be assured at least 85% of the wine is made with grapes from the year specified. Non-vintage wines are a blend of multiple year's grapes.
In a winery vintage is a particularly busy time of year as it's when the grapes are harvested and processed and begin their transformation into wine.
When is vintage?
Wine harvest season takes place once a year and typically lasts around 2-4 months. In Australia it usually occurs between February - April depending on the wine region. During this time the winery is a constant hive of activity, and winemakers are on call 24/7.
Unlike other fruits grapes don't ripen after they're picked, so there's a lot riding on picking them at exactly the right time. There are a number of factors that influence when grapes are picked. Extreme weather events—torrential rainfall or extreme heat—can threaten the quality of a grape crop. For winemakers, the ability to be flexible and think on their feet is crucial at this time of year, and they need to be able to adjust their plans at a moments notice.
So, what exactly happens during vintage?
For viticulturists, vintage is when grapes are harvested. The fruit is closely monitored daily to check the acid and sugar until optimal levels are reached. At this point growers must work quickly to get the fruit picked.
Different varieties ripen at different times, so whilst harvest is staggered, the grapes all ripen within weeks of each other and it's quite the process to manage.
Once harvested, the fruit is immediately sent to our Tamborine Mountain winery via refrigerated transport. Whether it arrives at 12 noon or 12 midnight our winemaking team are ready and waiting to begin processing.
The first step is to de-stem and crush the grapes. For white wines the combined juice and must (crushed flesh, skin and seeds) is pumped straight to the press to immediately remove the must. Only the juice is placed into tanks or barrels to go through the fermentation process.
Red grapes are processed differently to whites with both the juice and must going through the fermentation process together. It's from the must that red wines get their colour and tannin. Once fermentation in complete the must is pressed off and the wine is placed into barrels for maturation. For more on the winemaking process, please see our how wine is made blog post.
At this stage 2023 vintage is expected to start in late February, but if there's one thing we've learned about vintage it's to always expect the unexpected!