Vintage, Schmintage


What can one stand to gain by making multivintage/nonvintage blends?
What are the pitfalls and drawbacks of multivintage/nonvintage blends?

Arthur Z. Przebinda
Founder and Publisher


The truth? Let me get on my hobbyhorse. Removing the constraint of vintage purity gives the winemaker more freedom to blend for consistency, complexity and balance. Thus non-vintage wines are without exception a superior product and a better deal for the consumer.

However, Brother Timothy of Christian Brothers basically brought that winery to its knees by insisting on a non-vintage direction, because it was perceived as a commitment to mediocrity, and to advocate this simple truth is still marketing suicide today.

For those of us who make wines which take longer to come around in the bottle, vintage dating has a second concern today, which is its new role as an expiration date. Any chardonnay on the market now labeled before 2006 is suspect – something must be wrong with it or it would have sold by now. We are just coming out with our 2004 because the combination of lees contact, minerality and lower alcohol (12.9) causes it to close up for five years or so.

This stale goods phenomenon is worst in dry rosés. The consumer seems to think that 2008 is now over the hill, and will only buy 2009 this summer. In fact, most rosé is pretty reductive for the first year or two. Even Sutter Home White Zinfandel takes over a year to open up.

The solution we’ve found to this problem is to remove the vintage date from our rosés. Everybody should do this until the American consumer wises up – not likely any time soon. In a time when consumer ignorance is at an all-time high, it should be illegal to vintage date rosé.





"Thus non-vintage wines are without exception a superior product and a better deal for the consumer."

'Without exception', huh? This suggests that every winemaker is an adept blender, and will ALWAYS be able to produce a better NV wine than a vintage wine. This, as we know, is by no means the case- while there are some winemakers who are master blenders, there are plenty who are just as likely to produce something weird and out of balance in blending, as they are by going 100% vintage... This one doesn't pass the basic logic test.


I stand by my statement. More blending freedom is always an advantage for both the winemaker and the consumer. Since there is no set standard of quality (lots of us really like "weird" wines), my argument is that the winemaker will always be enebled to get closer to his or her artistic goal if unconstrained by legalistics. Since labeling a wine Non-vintage is marketing suicide, it's a pretty sure bet that there were compelling quality reasons to take that step. Nobody likes to hear absolutes, but this one is pretty strongly supported.


Mark Goldberg:

Clark, In your statment "that blending is always an advantage for winemaker and consumer", I tend to agree with Loren. Yes, the average consumer may want wines that taste the same year after year even though they may be good, but the oenophile wine drinker is looking for more. I would like to taste the differences between vintages and seek out the "better" wines. If we all had the same we would miss out on the great Brunellos of 1997 or the Great Burgundies of 2005 or the now great Oregon Pinots of 2008 which are just being released. If all wines were good Would we truly enjoy and appreciate the wines of better producers in great years? It is this difference that makes me appreciate great wines.I want to taste the average wines, and compare them (with the great) so I can say "this wine is sooo good.
I hear often this argument that it is important for wines to be lousy. Alice Feiring is fond of stating that if nature gives us a thin, sour vintage, she wants to taste it. This is not a real world discussion. WIneries have to sell their wines. How much bad wine did you actually buy last year in the name of aesthetic purity? Talk is cheap.

This does not mean I favor a bland sameness. Most wines will be vintage wines, and will carry the stamp of the year, available for the tiny fraction of folks who have a nose for these subtleties. I certainly don't think we should blend out our best years. But vintage purity per se is no more a harbinger of quality than any other attempt to legislate excellence, and consumers are well served to realize it.

Mark Goldberg:

Your point is well taken. I agree that vintage per se is not a guarantee of quality. In the years where the ratings are not that high I will look for the better producers, whose quality is proven over the years to try and find a better "product." In the years which are acclaimed to be great I will try the lower classified wines to try and find a good wine at a less expensive price. An example would be the 2005 Burgundies. Some of the village wines were excellant and less expensive than the Premier and Grand Crus.
I understand that wineries need to sell their wine and in today's economy it is difficult. You probably can get on most "cult" wine lists today, where a few years ago there was a wait. I appreciate the hard work you do in trying to make a better "product." There are winemakers out there who year after year try to craft the best wine they can. I recently returned from a trip to the Willamette Valley. I spent time with Joe Dobbes and Wayne Bailey of Youngberg Hill. Their,and others, dedication to making great wine is so much more appreciated after I experienced the hard work they go through everyday. This is remembered everytime I open a bottle.
In Vino Veritas,