I have been watching… at a safe distance… the general hysteria that is the annual Bordeaux en-primeur campaign. Each year it begins with loud proclamations of another extraordinary vintage, the like of which has been rarely, perhaps never encountered before. Ignore the all time high pricing, buy now, or be forever regretful. Bordeaux might have invented the whole concept of FOMO. '22 was heralded as the vintage of a lifetime. Which of course it is… if you’re a mayfly. Burgundy has been saying similar things: '17, '18, '19, ’20, '21, and no doubt '22, will be years of near miracle deliverance from drought, heat, hail, pestilance and other, mainly climate change induced, threats. Many other regions have followed this pattern and we are not exempt from guilt. Indeed the last six years were vintages we viewed as excellent as a region, and also at Felton Road. 

Clearly most vintages cannot be exceptional. But this isn’t just hysterical sales spiel, something else more interesting is going on. I remember a few years ago hearing the words of one of the wine world's great sages: Aubert de Villaine. He was being asked how his lauded Domaine coped in bad vintages. He replied: ‘we don’t think in terms of good and bad, but in easy and difficult’. For a moment I thought this was a bit of a political get out. But then I realised that he was right: today, wineries that have the teams, the means and the expertise to recognise threat and react quickly can turn the bad into the difficult, but good. The outcome may result in a much smaller vintage, but it will be good regardless. Not great, maybe, but good, maybe very good.

Not all wineries are so lucky. They may not have the manpower, the experience, or the response speed to beat the issue. Especially when relying on contract services, when a problem arises in a region, everybody is affected, so getting to the front of the queue may be impossible. This is especially true when it comes to hitting a critical harvest window. But, regardless of one's disaster response skills, simply the advances in viticulture around the world have meant that problem years are becoming rarer and rarer. I was struck by the comments on the remarkable harvest of Rieslings in the Mosel in 2021. For many producers, a series of huge challenges meant that half the crop was discarded, which is an economic catastrophe. But the wines that were made were sublime and heralded as some of the greatest for quite a number of years.

We, like many others, have seen a good run. We’d regard 17, 18, 19, 20, 21,and 22 as very good to excellent. But we need a new way to express this as they cannot, by definition, be of exceptional quality. I am trying to think of how we can resolve this. We need to, otherwise vintage notes become meaningless. But finding the right language to accurately convey each vintage isn’t something I have a simple solution to. Answers on a postcard (or more likely an email!) please…


Nigel and the team at Felton Road