Raise a glass to a vintage year
When Mother Nature conspires to create a stellar harvest
I step into the lagare, the deep purple juicy grapes reach nearly up to my knee. It’s my first crush and I’m ecstatic.
This is wine country Portugal, in the heart of the Douro Valley, where grapes are foot trodden, vineyards cling to the steep banks stretching to the sky, grapes are hand picked, and tradition reigns.
Pressing grapes is a delicate undertaking, as the pressure use to squeeze grapes must be gentle enough to avoid releasing bitter tannins from the seeds. A process the Portuguese still believe is best done by foot.
At a quinta that traces its winemaking back to 1882, I progress through a tasting from ruby to well-aged tawny port. Presented with a 1972 vintage to try, I savour the sweet elegant wine and muse how I came to be drinking wine almost as old as myself.
1972 was a vintage year in the Douro. With a warm growing season, the region saw an abundance of grapes of high quality and picked at the peak of ripeness. The resulting wine was of excellent quality. Samples were shipped to the labs of Douro & Port Wine Institute, and after tests and tastings, the wine regulator ratified the winemaker’s decision to declare a vintage wine.
Portugal is the world’s oldest controlled domain for wine, established in 1756 to manage the protected geographic indication. In BC, we have Vintners Quality Assurance (VQA) established in 1990, where wines are tasted for quality and records checked to ensure the grapes come from the region and year stated on the label.
My quest is now on. I scour through years of vintage reports, chat with sommeliers and peruse winemakers’ notes asking does the Okanagan Valley have vintage years?
The graph of winemaking in the Okanagan sharply rises each consecutive year since 1994 as growing conditions and good husbandry produced stellar harvests, culminating in 2009, the best vintage ever seen in BC.
We went through the “challenging” years on 2010 and 2011, some of the coldest on record. Then came one of the warmest and longest growing season, and as most sommeliers will tell you, they’re “in love with 2012.”
The accolades continued for 2013, with reviewers declaring back-to-back great vintages. The warmer than average spring, moisture in June, a lack of rainfall in the peak of summer and intense heat created some standout varietals. Look for Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
You’ll do well with 2012, 2013 or 2014 and any 2009 you can still find, likely the top vintage years of this past decade.
We’re at the peak of release of 2013 reds, with a few 2014 starting to come to market. And yes, the good news just gets better. In the words of Gerrit Van Staalduinen, portfolio manager at BC Wine Shop, “Mother nature couldn’t architect a longer year and intensity of heat. Go pick up a bottle at your favourite winery; it should be the best vintage they produce.”