I’ve followed Old Vine Wine now for over 30 years. Facing a shelf full of unknown wine labels, the key words I look for are Old Vine or Vielles Vignes or Vinhas Velhas or Vinas Viejas. It’s always my safest bet, usually yielding the most interesting outcome. Here’s why.
Vines of 35-170 years of age usually provide more intense and concentrated wine than younger vine wine – good for us consumers. This is pure ‘survival of the fittest’ stuff. Each vine increasingly focuses its energy on producing fewer, but riper, sweeter grapes, attracting hungry birds who fly off and drop their seeds into new territories.
The unfortunate flip side of producing less wine per vine is it can mean less profit for growers. Consequently, EU and other governments encourage vine culls by paying growers to pull out old vines and then paying them again to replant young vines or corn, wheat or beans. Industrial wine making at its worst.
In truth, this is much more tragic than simply producing a glass of wine cheaper vs growing a better glass of wine. The older a vine gets the better it inhabits its space. It sends roots down deeper finding more secure water sources and capturing more diverse soil nutrients. Old vines resist drought and disease and insects better than young vines. Usually, they are dry farmed without aid of irrigation.
Most old vineyards preserve biodiversity, containing many types (clones) of a single grape or grapes vs modern vineyards planted with a single clone of one variety. All in all they are better for the environment, including absorbing CO2 for longer, rather than burning it up.
Ironically, New World regions California and Australia cottoned on to the superiority of Old Vines in 1980s. In marketing this as an asset, they’ve preserved some of the world’s oldest Zinfandel, Carignan and Shiraz vineyards. South Africa is full of excellent old vine Chenin and Cinsault. Spain, France, Italy and Portugal have an over abundance of old vineyards, formerly destined to be watered down into high volume cooperative blends. The light bulb has flicked on there as well.
The secret here is that some of the world’s greatest, most expensive wine come from old vines, but also some of the world’s best inexpensive wines. Go buy some, drink better and help save the world while you are at it.