I recently had an interesting email exchange with a buyer regarding the lack of vintage on our Eufloria Aromatic White label. The buyer’s concern was that not disclosing the vintage (it is a 2016 vintage though we do not put a vintage on the label) was lowering the perception of quality of the wine to consumers… but does it?
There is no doubt that one of the pleasures of geeking out about wine is to think of it in the context of its vintage. For the most cerebral consumers, thinking of a vintage might mean seeking a specific one because it has been praised for its sublime climate conditions leading to above average wines that harvest. For the savvy shopper knowing a good vintage might trigger the buying of lesser estates or parcels that might perform very well in a stellar year and not so well in a “bad” vintage – for example most 2010 Bordeaux are excellent and one could safely try a lesser estate that vintage and find a good bottle of wine. If you follow that thinking the reverse would be true and some consumers frown upon wines from a “bad” vintage which, sometimes, have to be discounted regardless of their actual quality (often the best values are from marginal vintages that no one wants to buy). Regardless, I would bet that this is only a small fraction of consumers that really change their buying habits based on vintage and likely this behavior is limited to the buying of classic regions (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Ports…). In fact, several studies have shown that vintage is often the least important piece of information on the label for buyers in the $5 to $15 category – many are more interested in the variety used, what it might taste like, or how good the package makes them feel. Even origin information scores higher than vintage in consumer’s buying decision. So why make it confusing to the consumer by adding a vintage if the wine sells for less than $15?
Another potential good argument for having a vintage on a wine label is for the consumer to evaluate the freshness of the wine. That is interesting but not really grounded in any reality since some wines are tired after a few months (inexpensive, barrel fermented hot climate chardonnay for example) and others seem to age for decades (high end Chablis for example). Even the most knowledgeable wine lover would have to come up with a complicated algorithm (vintage + varieties used + climate + methods of production + age) to have an educated guess at gauging the freshness of a wine without tasting it. Anyone that thinks they can guess at the freshness of a wine they do not know by just looking at the label is probably fooling themselves.
The argument that all quality wines have vintage is also difficult to argue for. Indeed, some excellent wines are multi vintage wines such as non-vintage Champagne or sherries. For those wines it has been established that having the freedom to blend young and older wines is beneficial to quality and consistency from one bottling to the next. To me, this is what matters for a wine such as Eufloria – the consumer should feel they get a great bottle all the time without having to dig through a Washington state vintage chart. A wine label for wines such as Eufloria might benefit by the addition of the bottling date in order to understand when it was bottled rather than when it was harvested – something similar to disclosing disgorging dates on Champagne labels. We do put a code on the bottle at present but it is hard to spot right now and I would not discount the idea of putting a better bottling code somewhere else.
In conclusion, I believe the consumer is fine without a vintage year on a wine label for a wine retailing below a certain price point. The lack of vintage labeling allows to highlight more important facts on the label such as variety/ies, origin or organic practices for example. It also allows for more flexibility for the producer to produce a more consistent and delicious product regardless of vintage. Does it make wine look more like a beverage? Possibly – but this is what many wines are most of the time.