High hopes that this year will prove the stuff of legend
People often ask at this time of year "how are things at the winery" and when I reply "very busy – we are in the middle of vintage" they return a blank or confused look. I've had people ask whether that meant we were doing something with cars. One even asked: "You mean you're preparing for Christmas?"
Though these days it's often used in reference to cars, clothing or artefacts from a particular period, the original meaning of the word vintage is "to gather grapes". The French say "Vendage". We use it to describe the whole period of harvest and winemaking at that time, but it has further evolved to denote wines that are made solely from the grapes of a particular year.
The conditions of the growing season vary, thus so does the quality of the vintage; there are good and bad. Really outstanding vintages from famous regions go down in history.
Wine aficionados might have heard reference to "Comet Vintages" whereby excellent wines are attributed to a "great comet" before harvest. The most famous of these was 1811: Flaugergues Comet was visible for much of the growing season, and with some of the wines from that year being lauded decades, even centuries on, it is easy to see how vignerons put two and two together. A few wines since have carried stars on their labels in homage to the great event! There have been many other "comet" vintages and if you believe in the power of the stars, the last this century were 1985 (Halley's comet) and 1989 – happy drinking! Personally, I haven't checked the sky for comets this year…
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Many legendary vintages mark some period in history. One of the most famous was 1945; a year that gave some outstanding wines, but more notably saw the end of the war in Europe. The 1945 Mouton-Rothschild carried a label with a prominent "V" and bore the words "Année de la Victoire". Other vintages carry some special personal meaning, like the birth of one's child. My first daughter was born in 2009, a great vintage in Bordeaux, for which I bought her a case of a favourite claret – Leoville-Barton – to enjoy when she is old enough. The latest addition to our family, born earlier this year, will likely not be drinking Bordeaux when she turns 18, as they are having a difficult time there at the moment, but perhaps it will be another region – English wine even, as we are shaping up pretty well so far...
Vintage for us began on September 30, and now we are right in the thick of it. It's an exciting few weeks, whereby potential quality is judged for the first time and most of the decisions that determine the final character of the wine are made.
What we've pressed so far has been very good; the Siegerrebe was as pretty and aromatic as I've seen it – which bodes well for our "Trevannion" blend – and all the sparkling varieties seem to have good purity and elegance. As we still have a long way to go, the overall quality of the vintage is in the lap of the gods, yet, despite the lack of comets, I am quietly confident we will produce some exciting wines.
James Thomas is winemaker at Knightor Winery and Restaurant near St Austell. Visit knightor.com, follow @knightor_wine on Twitter or call 01726 851101.