CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The importance of a quality wine vintage cannot be underestimated.
As a home winemaker, I know firsthand what a poor vintage in incompetent hands can yield. One year, confronted with a half-ton of mushy, moldy grapes, I produced a foul-smelling liquid that tasted not quite as good as turpentine.
But this year, there's some pretty good news for California wine lovers. The 2013 vintage is shaping up to be very good or, according to some prognosticators, even excellent. In fact, the harvest has already commenced with the picking of whites such as sauvignon blanc.
There has been a string of good to excellent vintages in California recently, with 2012 being generally regarded as superb. The 2009 and 2010 vintages also are stellar, especially for reds such as cabernet sauvignon.
Only in 2011, where rains fell during peak harvest periods, was the vintage considered poor. However, some wineries had the foresight to pick before the rains or the patience (and nerve) to wait until late in the season, and made good wines in 2011.
So how much should you pay attention to vintage reports in deciding which wines to buy? In general, these reports are helpful to use as a starting point. However, a region as large as California is full of very different appellations, microclimates and terroirs.
What is terroir (pronounced tare-wah) you ask? Terroir starts with the place where the grapes are grown. The vineyard location, its slope, topography and angle toward the sun are all part of terroir. So is the soil type and climate (including rainfall and other precipitation) as well as the type of vine or clone of the vine used.