Most of the regulations that exist in the wine business (at least those that pertain to the making of wine) were put there to keep guys like me honest. They weren’t created to help you, the wine consumer, determine whether the stuff that I’m making is any good. Codifying “quality” is a slippery slope and is a notion that the government tries to stay away from.
Though the concepts of appellation, vintage, and variety were meant to confer a sense of protection for the consumer and are regulated to a certain degree by the requisite agencies; they have come, instead, to describe quality. Having Napa Valley on one’s label isn’t a guarantor of quality, but it certainly does carry a premium in price for the winery and for the grower of the grapes.
In a similar vein, the vintage date has a deeper meaning than the year the fruit was harvested. In more marginal growing areas such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, the high probability of inclement weather (compared to California) argues for investing the vintage date with a real sense of quality, greater or lesser, depending upon the vicissitudes of Nature. In Champagne and Oporto, a vintage year is “declared” when the producers believe their offerings to be of exceptional quality. In California, in reality, the seasons being much more consistently consistent, the vintage year is generally a marker of dates. The marketing sage would rightly note, however, that reality is what the brands tell you, and the custom in California is for the winery to proclaim each vintage as the best yet.
Champagne and Oporto and Jerez (where Spain’s Sherries are made) have another custom, largely unused in the United States, the production of non-vintage wines. In the US, a minimum of 95% of a wine has to come from a specific year to place that year on the label. Anything less, and the wine bears no sense of season. In fact, it becomes timeless. Timelessness, as the Champenois see it, means creating a consistent style of wine that hues to the organoleptic values of the house. Bollinger’s house style will differ from Moet’s, which is different than Ruinart’s. The “house” style, in a way, represents the winery’s ethos. Independent from the inconsistencies of weather, and unmoored in the river of time, the house wines (in greater degree than their vintaged counterparts) carry more obviously the hand and mind of the winemaker in the production of a wine that tells the world what the house is.
Because of quality connotation associated with vintage dating in California, one rarely see san NV wine of quality in California. Like our comrades in Champagne, though, The Steven Kent Winery produces these blends on a fairly regular basis. In these situations, the consistent quality of the fruit we are growing and using gives us the opportunity to make the Ur-Barbera or Sangiovese, so representative of the site and the qualities that we (as winemakers and winelovers) desire from these varieties, that pinning them to a brief moment of certainty seems parsimonious.
Our newest wine, La Ventana, is a blend of two different years of Barbera from our estate vineyards in the Livermore Valley. Like similar blends before it, we believe this wine captures the grape being it’s own lovely self…and tasting delicious in the process.