Old vine (French: vieilles vignes, German: alte Reben) is a term commonly used on wine labels to indicate that a wine is the product of grape vines that are notably old. The practice of displaying it stems from the general belief that older vines, when properly handled, will give a better wine. However, in France, the U.S., and most countries, it has no legal or even generally agreed upon definition.
Grape vines can grow for over 120 years. After about 20 years vines start to produce smaller crops, and average yields decrease, leading to more concentrated, intense wines. Diseases such as "dead arm" can also afflict old vines, in some cases further concentrating the juice. "Old vines" might apply to an entire estate, or it might mean only a certain parcel planted before others. In the U.S., the most common use is on Zinfandel, because in California vineyards up to 125 years old are still bearing small amounts of prized Zinfandel fruit.
In a place where wine production is longstanding, it often means a wine whose vines are thirty to forty years old. Some wine makers insist the vines should be older than this. In newly established wine regions, twenty years might be old. The definition is further complicated by the fact that certain varieties simply do not have economically viable yields when they get truly ancient.
Old vines across the globe
In the Barossa Valley, the world's oldest continually producing commercial vineyard that has been authenticated is believed to be the Shiraz vines at Turkey Flat in Tanunda that were originally planted in 1847. The Barossa Old Vine Charter was established to protect the older vines in the region and prevent them from being removed from the ground.
The oldest known grape-producing vine is a Žametovka vine growing in Maribor in Slovenia, which is known to have been alive in the 17th century; it produces a token of about 35 to 55 kg grapes each year, which is fermented and put into about 100 miniature bottles.
The oldest producing vineyard in California is widely agreed to be the Grandpere vineyard, an Amador County Zinfandel planting dating to 1865.
Domaine Henri Marionnet in the Cour-Cheverny appellation of the Loire Valley claims the oldest producing vineyard in France, a Romorantin planting dating to 1850. Interestingly Marionnet has grafted from the old vines and planted a new Romorantin vineyard right next to the ancient pre-phylloxera planting.
Because there is no objective definition, an "old vines" wine might or might not show any specific characteristics related to vine age. Generally, the more reputable the producer, the more likely it is to mean something. Similarly, if a producer sells a "regular" and "old vines" bottling, it is more likely to represent a perceptible difference in character, if not necessarily in quality. In these ways, "old vines" is similar to "reserve," a term that also varies dramatically in its significance and in many countries and regions has no legal definition.
- Robinson, Jancis (2006). The Oxford companion to WINE (3 ed.). OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. pp. 739–740.
- G. Harding "A Wine Miscellany" pg 20, Clarkson Potter Publishing, New York 2005 ISBN 0307346358
- Barossa Vineyards, barossa.com, accessed 21 February 2010.
- Anthony Gardner "Maribor, Slovenia: a cultural city guide" The Daily Telegraph March 1st, 2012
- Nick Stephens "The Oldest Grape Vine in the World – and The Oldest Wine etc!" Bordeaux Undiscovered. July 17th, 2008