What vintage during your career has most exceeded the early expectations of critics, consumers and perhaps you yourself. And, in retrospect, what was it about the vintage that people missed, or misunderstood, at the beginning?
Olivier Humbrecht, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (Alsace, France). Easy: 2001 in Alsace! This vintage was completely overshadowed by 2000 and everybody thought that the sunny vintage 2000 was far superior to the cooler, but long ripening 2001. Two thousand one enjoyed a cool summer and a nice September, which kept the grapes very healthy with good acidity. October was then very warm and sunny, allowing the grapes to reach full ripeness.
I am still amazed today to see how slowly people realized that it was a truly fantastic year. Again, I guess the buzz created by some regions around the 2000 vintage sent some false ideas. Even perhaps in Alsace. Similarly, we can compare the two recent 2008/2009 vintages. I guess it will also take ten years for people to realize how great 2008 is in Alsace!
Chris Figgins, Leonetti Cellars (Walla Walla, Washington). Without a doubt, the 2004 vintage. This vintage was widely panned as a “total wipeout” in the Walla Walla Valley due to a hard winter freeze, and so the general presumption among consumers and even some of the press was that the vintage was over before it started. While there was indeed widespread bud and trunk damage at the lower elevations of the Valley, the upper elevations had much warmer temperatures during the freeze event that happened in January. At elevations above a thousand feet (where all of our Leonetti Vineyards are located), we picked only slightly below normal yields.
The vintage itself was one of very fine weather with no surprises. It was definitely a vintage that separated the men from the boys in the viticulture department, as even those vineyards that would end up picking fruit had erratic budbreak, irregular flowering, and intense cordon suckering. We made nearly double our normal hand passes through the vineyard removing suckers and harshly green harvesting. Those who were relentless in the vineyard bottled fantastic wines. It is definitely the most misunderstood vintage among consumers of my career.
Philippe Guigal, E. Guigal (northern Rhône, France). Two thousand three was a very special vintage in the Northern Rhône, and especially in Côte-Rôtie. A lot of French critics misjudged the vintage, saying that it was very (too!) pleasant and that the wines would not last. But it was avoiding the extreme concentration of this vintage, with very high anthocyanins and tannins, that will bring the wines through the next 30 years!
It is important to understand that this vintage was “pre-harvested” three times before the actual harvest: frost, followed by hell, and eventually crazy summer temperatures diminished the volume of 60%. It is true that drought was an issue and many regions suffered from a blockage of the maturation because of the lack of water, but with such little crop to ripen (17 hectoliters per hectare, or just over a ton per acre), Côte-Rôtie was been in a privileged position and we made outstanding wines in this special vintage.
Two thousand three is the vintage of the 4 “Gs”:
Le gel [frost]
La grêle [hail]
La grillure [parching of the leaves from drought]
Le resultat: genial [brilliant, awesome]
And if you search for the 5th “G”: Guigal
Rupert Symington, Symington Family Estates (Douro Valley, Portugal). I would say without a doubt that the Dow’s 1980 Vintage Port that we bottled and released in 1982 has been a true “sleeper” of a vintage that has now shown itself to be one of the all-time classics. Following hard on the heels of the much feted 1977, the 1980 wines were largely overlooked by the press, and although they sold well into the trade they never seemed to attract great critical acclaim. We were not greatly helped by the fact that some of our rival producers made a bit of a mess of their 1980s and were therefore not so keen to talk them up.
The Dow 1980 today is still youthful, showing a lot more colorr than the 1977s or even some 1985s, and seems to be refusing to grow any older. With Vintage Port it is difficult to say exactly what makes a particular wine last longer than others, but it probably has a lot to do with everything being in perfect balance from the very beginning. The Dow 1980 was always a big wine, quite unapproachable when it was young and notable for its very deep colour, and when it came time to re-release stocks in the 2000 decade we decided sensibly to wait as it simply wasn’t ready. In 2011 it is drinking beautifully but probably has at least another 30 or 40 years of life ahead of it.
Lynnette Hudson, Pegasus Bay Winery (Waipara, New Zealand). Our 2008 Pegasus Bay Classic Riesling was a very different style from what we have produced in the past. This was due to a combination of late picking with a lot of botrytis resulting in very high sugar levels (26.5 degrees Brix on average) and also our change in taste and philosophy in regard to the variety in general.
For the first 16 years producing riesling at Pegasus Bay, we have epitomised the classical Mosel style, and for some reason thought that we could manipulate our grapes to produce something similar. More recently our taste has changed and we have been appreciating the riper, drier, more modern European styles such as Grosses Gewachs, Smaragd and off-dry styles in the riper, richer, more phenolic vein. We recognise now that Waipara is warmer and we will never make the elegant, green apple, archetypal Mosel.
Anyway, after coming to understand our terroir better we have found that actually some of our attributes are big phenolics and ripe peach and orange zest flavours. We find that these terroir characteristics are personified by hang time.
Two thousand eight was an extreme vintage and was certainly a contrast to 2007. Two thousand seven was very clean, with minimal botrytis, and was very much what our customers had come to expect from Pegasus Bay Classic Riesling. In 2008, however, the botrytis infection took over and we decided to hold on and hope for the northwest winds to make everything noble (it was a little bit stressful for a couple of weeks). They did eventually arrive, but by this stage there was around 70% infection, which concentrated everything when it dried out.
We fermented the resulting wine further than we normally would, down to about 25 grams per liter of residual sugar, which meant the alcohol was high. We decided not to fine the wine, because the phenolics were good and ripe. So it’s an absolute contrast to the 2007 and to most other previous vintages of our Classic.
We were and still are excited about our 2008 Classic, but on release it was received with contempt from many of our loyal customers (perhaps the funky sulphides did not enhance its initial appeal). We were told by our family not to make a style like this again; we don’t really listen to them anyway, but it’s nice to know they care.
As often happens, just as you sell out of a wine, it starts to taste really good, and it received some very complimentary reviews from the press. It is definitely one of our favourites for its richness, drinkability and complexity. And it has made us really think about the best way to express our terroir. Anyway, from this extreme vintage, it has highlighted to us the fact that it is very easy to be narrow-minded in terms of riesling style preferences and that sometimes being open-minded can open the doorway to alternative realities.