Peter Neptune MS taught me that Non-Vintage Champagne winemakers are perhaps the most talented in the world. They are tasked with making Champagnes with a distinctive house style year in and year out, despite fluctuations in weather and growing conditions. Not only do they modify their winemaking approach for each lot, but then they assemble their cuvees from different varietals, vintages, and vineyards to mold the final product into the traditional style loved worldwide.
Most Champagne houses price their non-vintage wine as their entry level, and ask a higher retail for vintage dated Champagne. This higher price makes sense for particularly wonderful vintages, although those magical lots would elevate the baseline non-vintage if included. Therefore, many large Champagne houses keep the vintage bottlings small, so the non-vintage cuvee becomes a blend of both good and less than perfect years.
Logically, wineries’ entry level wine should be non-vintage, or more accurately, a “multi vintage” wine. The lots that don’t make the cut for expensive, vintage bottlings in bad years are boosted by lots that don’t fit into top cuvees from excellent years. Usually, vintage variation from year to year works out to compliment a blend. High-strung, acidic lots from cooler years give back bone and balance to lusher, riper, fruitier warmer vintages.
From the Californian Perspective
In California, multi vintage wine is gaining more attention, especially in Northern California where heavy rainfall can cause fluctuation in wine profile from year to year.
Even the best publicized Napa Valley winery, Opus One, a joint venture between the Mondavi and Rothschilds families, create a non-vintage second label Bordeaux blend, called Overture, for the relatively conservative retail price of $80 a bottle versus $235 for Opus One.
Non Vintage & Our La Cuadrilla Program
Down here in Ballard Canyon, with two near perfect vintages in the bag from 2012 and 2013, Sashi Moorman has no immediate plans to bottle a multi vintage wine. The current release of NV Cuadrilla, however, is a great example of a wine benefitting from the blend of two distinct years. While our first priority wasn’t to blend 2010 and 2011 to achieve a greater wine, but rather to sustain our profit sharing program for our full-time crew after April 2011 frost greatly reduced the 2011 wine quantity, we did in fact end up with a better wine by combining the two years.
2010 Syrah and Sangiovese both possess high-toned, bright red fruit and zinging acidity from the year’s cool, windy summer. 2011, after frost, gave us a concentrated, deeper fruit profile with wild berry fruit and forest floor qualities. By combining both profiles, Sashi gave the wine new complexity while also giving our consumers an exceedingly approachable entry level wine. Because we held the 2010 in barrel, knowing we would need those lots to continue the Cuadrilla program, the 85% portion is mellowed and ready to drink. The small 15% addition of 2011 adds fresh and lively flavors but doesn’t overwhelm the wine with youthfulness waiting to mature.
In the Wholesale Market
So far, the wine has been well received both in the Tasting Room and in most markets, where we explain the concept of the multi-vintage blend and speak about our commitment to the crew. Of course, Ruben’s smiling face on the label helps the cause. On the other hand, our distributor in New York reports that restaurateurs will object to a multi vintage wine, and our broker in Orange County tells me that wholesale buyers have given him “push back”. Why more wineries haven’t marketed multi vintage wine to pave the way for this Cuadrilla bottling perplexes me.
For now, looking around California, two very established wineries have paved the way. Marietta Cellars is in their 59th edition of their multi-vintage “Old Vine Red” and Cain Winery is in it’s 9th edition of multi-vintage Cain Cuvee.
Stolpman Vineyards will continue to keep its labeling options open when it comes to our entry-level blend La Cuadrilla. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout to taste more multi-vintage wines when I’m looking for value.