These days, you might hear the word “vintage” applied to fashion, or just about anything with that certain retro-chic style, often used as a synonym for “older” or “better.” In the wine world, it’s always been a popular, if often misunderstood, term, begging the question: what’s it really mean, and does it really matter?

Mumm Napa Head Winemaker Ludovic Dervin gives us a little perspective on the concept of a vintage.

What is a vintage?

Vintage refers to the year grapes were harvested. So a vintage wine is one made from grapes that were all (or at least mostly) grown in the same year.

Why do some wines list a vintage while others don’t?

Not all wines share the same vintage. For example, while almost all still wines come from a single vintage, that isn’t the case with sparkling wines, where different vintages are often blended to suit the winemaker’s intended wine style and quality. “Weather in Napa is very consistent, without the ups and downs of some other regions. For us, the greatest factor is about the consistency in quality and style we want to produce,” says Ludo. In other words, Ludo and his team have more control over “the right time” to pick our grapes in order to create distinctive results, setting the stage for what’s in your glass, or will be soon.

Why do many sparkling wines not have a vintage?

Most sparkling wines are blends, so winemakers focus on creating a distinctive style that makes best use of the unique qualities that emerge from the weather and conditions of the year the grapes were picked. For instance, many Mumm Napa fans count on our Brut Reserve as a consistent go-to bottle again and again. When you enjoy a glass of our Brut Reserve, the moment should consistently enliven your senses and your sense of occasion with its dependable taste and quality, every year. It’s not easy to arrive at this result; it takes the full measure of Mumm Napa winemaking expertise to use grapes from multiple harvests to make sure the wine lives up to its name every time.

What about sparkling wines that do have a vintage?

It comes down to a winemaker’s decision to highlight a specific year’s harvest. DVX is Mumm Napa’s most notable vintage wine, using only grapes from one year’s harvest. There will be slight variation year to year, since, of course, the growing conditions are different each year. The beauty of having a vintage stated on the label is that you know how old the wine is. Mumm Napa vintage-dated wines are crafted to age for a rather long time. DVX wines can be enjoyed up to 15 or 20 years after the Harvest vintage. It is an amazing experience to have a full case of one vintage and watch the wine age through the years by opening a bottle every year or every other year.

Why should vintage matter to me?

The great thing is, it’s up to you. Vintage is simply a clue about the relationship between the grapes, annual weather, and a winemaker’s intent. So if you find you enjoy Chardonnay from 2012, or you’ve experimented to compare our 2012 Pinot Noir to our 2013 and notice subtle differences and similarities, or you know you love Mumm Napa Brut Reserve from any year, use these experiences to guide you to the next great bottle.

 

Vintage or not, it’s fair to say that any bottle you can reliably enjoy with friends and family is from a very good year indeed.