What Makes Up an Exceptional Vintage

What Makes Up an Exceptional Vintage
Jon Flores

Written by Jon Flores

Education and Experience Lead

An exceptional grape-growing season can be the most impactful factor in a winery’s year-to-year success. When yields and quality line up correctly growers and winemakers are given the opportunity to make decisions clearly and time everything in a way that leads to exceptional wines. The balance and art of winemaking and grape growing is, in part, being able to identify what proactive and reactive decisions positively impact grape quality.

But what exactly makes a grape-growing year exceptional? Is it purely a matter of weather patterns and temperature, or are there other factors at play? In this blog, we’ll delve into the many variables that contribute to a successful grape-growing season, exploring everything from the soil quality to the pest populations, and everything in between. Join us as we uncover the intricate web of factors that come together to create a truly exceptional year for wine.


The first and perhaps most important of these factors is the weather. Ideally, consistent and predictable weather conditions throughout the growing season lead to favorable grapes. Increasingly warm and predictable weather patterns in spring encourage vine growth and set the stage for a successful growing season but a single freezing cold night in April could diminish a crop by half or more. The long and warm summer days help grapevines successfully flower and set the fruit but strong winds can hinder the vineyard’s ability to self-pollenate, leading to a poor fruit set. Consistently warm temperatures and diminishing daylight in late summer/ early fall help each varietal finish ripening slowly while maintaining natural acidity but a large heat spike, fire season or early rains can force growers and winemakers to bring fruit in earlier than anticipated. Finding a balance between proactive and reactive decision-making is imperative in winemaking and grape-growing.


Another critical factor for an exceptional grape-growing year is the quality of the soil in which the grapes are grown. Grapevines require well-draining soils with relatively low nutrients and minerals, and with the appropriate pH balance. During the years following heavy rains vineyards benefit from reduced salt buildup in the soil and soils that have been amended with a cover crop encourage biodiversity and take advantage of the fixation of nitrogen and other beneficial nutrients needed for grapevines to grow. Paying close attention to the whole vineyard ecosystem and encouraging biodiversity can both contribute to a site’s ability to withstand disease and pest pressure.


The third factor that contributes to an exceptional grape-growing year is the skill and experience of the vineyard management team. Proper vineyard management techniques, including cover cropping, pruning and canopy management are crucial for optimizing grape quality and quantity. Precision farming techniques like shoot, leaf and/or cluster thinning, deficit irrigation and integrated pest management can promote uniform ripening of the grapes and minimize damage from pests and diseases.

Together, all these factors and more, working in harmony, can lead to the production of an exceptional grape-growing year and a high-quality harvest, resulting in wines of unparalleled quality and character. Sunstone prides itself in treating the land with the respect it deserves by farming our own estate organically from day one and sourcing from organic and sustainable vineyards where available.