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Unveiling the Secrets of Old Vines: History, Quality, and Preservation

Updated: Nov 23, 2023


If you love wine, you've probably noticed the words "old vines," "vieilles vignes," or "Alte Reben" on a wine bottle. These phrases mean that the wine comes from grapevines that are at least a few decades old. But when does a vine become 'old,' why are they so special, and also, why can old they make terrific wines? In this blog post, we'll look at why old vines can make some of the finest wines on earth and discuss the efforts to create regulations and preserve them, especially considering the challenges posed by global warming.


What Are Old Vines?


Grapevines start to be considered "old" when they reach around 30 to 35 years, with some even dating more than a hundred years. Along their lifecycle, vines start producing good quality grapes commercially after about three years, reach their best at around ten years, and then start to produce fewer grapes after twenty years. Growers then decide whether to keep the vine for a lower yield or pull it out and plant new vines. Normally, vines can live up to 60 years, but in some places like Priorat in Spain, Lodi in California, and McLaren Vale in Australia, you can find vines that are over 100 years old.


Why Are Old Vines So Special?


Depth of Roots

Old vines often have deep root systems that have had decades to delve into the soil to extract water and nutrients. This enables them to withstand dry conditions, making them more resilient to drought. The deeper roots also contribute to the complexity and depth of flavours in the grapes, as they can access a broader range of soil nutrients.


Lower Yields

Due to their age, old vines tend to produce lower yields. While this may seem like a disadvantage for producers aiming for quantity, the lower yield actually favours those looking for quality grapes. Lower yields result in fruit flavour and extract concentration in the grapes—a crucial factor in the production of premium wines that exhibit depth, richness, and long age-ability.


Complexity of Flavours

The extended root systems of old vines, combined with the lower yields and higher concentrations of flavour compounds, contribute to the complexity of flavours found in wines made from these grapes. This complexity can manifest as layers of fruit, earthy undertones, and nuanced aromas, creating a multi-dimensional tasting experience.


Historical Significance

Old vines hold a significant place in the history of winemaking, especially those in vineyards that are over a century old. These vines have weathered decades of changing climates and have developed deep, intricate root systems that contribute to the unique character of the grapes they produce. The resulting wines often possess a complexity and depth that is highly sought after by both winemakers and consumers.


Marketing Advantage

From a marketing standpoint, wines produced from old vines carry a distinct appeal. The story of some venerable vineyards and their resilience to a diversity of backsets, such as diseases, wars and economic upheavals, can be a compelling narrative for wineries to share with their audience. Consumers are often drawn to the idea of savouring a product that encapsulates history and tradition, and the marketing potential of old vines lies in their ability to evoke a sense of heritage and timelessness, setting the wine apart in a crowded market.


When can a vine be named "Old Vine" specifically?


Different countries have different ideas about when a vine is considered 'old'. In general, it's around 30-35 years. In most cases, producers decide for themselves based on their common sense. However, in some countries, there exist some regulations! In South Africa, the Old Vine Project says old vines are older than 35 years. In Barossa Valley, Australia, they have even different categories such as Old Vine (at least 35 years old), Survivor Vine (at least 70 years old), Centenarian Vine (at least 100 years old), and Ancestor Vine (at least 125 years old). There are also projects in Chile and Lodi to support old vines. These regulations serve to preserve the authenticity and quality associated with wines made from old vines, assuring consumers of a certain standard when they encounter this designation on a bottle.


Challenges and Preservation of Old Vines


Old vines face numerous threats and require dedicated preservation efforts to safeguard these invaluable assets for future generations.


Threats to Old Vines

Old vines face various threats, such as urbanization, climate change, and the spread of vineyard diseases and pests. Urban expansion often leads to the destruction of vineyard land, threatening these historic vines. Climate change brings extreme weather conditions, like heatwaves and droughts, which can significantly affect the health and lifespan of old vines. Additionally, diseases and pests constantly endanger these vines, highlighting the need to address these challenges proactively.


Conservation Efforts

Worldwide, efforts are being made to conserve old vines and protect them from various threats. These efforts include identifying and safeguarding ancient vine sites, using sustainable vineyard management practices, and promoting genetic diversity in vineyards. Collaboration between vineyard owners, conservation organizations, and government bodies is crucial for preserving old vines. By raising awareness and implementing sustainable viticultural practices, these initiatives aim to ensure the continued existence of old vines, benefiting the wine industry an

d biodiversity. For further information on these initiatives, visit https://www.oldvines.org/.

In Conclusion


Old vines play a crucial role in producing high-quality wines with unique and complex flavours. The age of the vines contributes to the depth and character of the grapes, ultimately impacting the overall quality of the wine. They also offer a marketing appeal for those producers looking for a wine with history. Additionally, old vines are valuable assets that require careful preservation and management to ensure their continued contribution to the wine business.



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