So you can jump in the conversation next time, we’ve answered some of the burning questions surrounding wine vintage.

If you drink wine often enough, you are bound to encounter a person who makes a comment about a certain year being good (or bad) for a wine. Whether that statement comes from a well-educated wine drinker or just someone trying to be impressive, they are referring to a wine’s “vintage.”

WHAT IS A VINTAGE?

Vintage is the specific year grapes were grown and harvested. A wine’s vintage doesn’t reflect when the wine was bottled or released but refers to the year of the grape’s growing season. Here in Oregon, the growing season falls between April and October.

When there is a vintage year printed on the label, no fewer than 85% (sometimes 95%) of the grapes in the wine were grown that year.

Sometimes, a bottle won’t list a year at all. These “non-vintage” wines have grapes from different years blended together. Many mass-market wines are non-vintage, so winemakers can produce a high number of bottles while keeping the flavor consistent year to year. If a wine is labeled “N.V.,” it is a non-vintage wine.

WHAT MAKES A VINTAGE GOOD OR BAD?

The short answer is the weather. A good or bad vintage is defined by the weather patterns the wine region saw, and how it ultimately affected the grapes. Just like other crops have good and bad years that result in higher or lower yields, wine grapes are no different. Frost in the spring, too little rain in the summer or too much rain in the fall can all have an impact on a region’s wine.

WHO DECIDES WHAT VINTAGES ARE GOOD AND BAD?

Any winemaker will be able to tell you what years were good or bad, just like a farmer can recall the good and bad years of their crop.

There are a few wine experts that publish vintage charts that rate each year’s vintage from all the major wine regions of the world. These charts can be massively overwhelming to look at, but they can be a good resource to reference when wanting to see how vintages compare to each other.

Check out these two vintage charts:

DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER?

Yes and no. Vintages carry more weight in wines from regions where the weather is unpredictable. The drastic change in weather year to year can make the wine taste drastically different year to year as well.

Another instance, if you are a person that collects wine, vintages matter. Better vintages tend to age better and are worth more in a collection. Or if you are trying to impress someone, know a region’s good or bad vintages can make you look cool.

Basically, those are the only times it REALLY matters.

In recent years, the focus of wine drinkers has shifted. They have started to care less about what external factors happened to the grapes during the growing season, and care more about who is making the wine. Drinkers want to feel connected to who is making the wine, and less about one hail storm in July six years ago.

Granted, vintages still matters to the winemaker. Better weather leads to higher yields. Higher yields lead to more wine to sell, leading to more money. Science has also come a long way to helping winemakers make good wine, even if the weather wasn’t ideal.

But no matter if you are a vintage junkie or just want a good glass of wine made by a cool person, there is something for you in the Willamette Valley and with this Wine Vintage Guide you are a more knowledgeable wine enthusiast.