Imagine walking in a vineyard filled with old vines, low in the ground and so ugly they are beautiful. They rarely bear fruit. A ripe berry that hits the tongue and explodes with a concentrated odor.
No other food source offers an experience that blends history and modernity.
Modern winemakers have recently adopted ancient methods, such as making orange and patillant natural wines, fermenting amphorae or using horse-drawn plows. Similarly, winemakers are looking at some of the world’s, and most valuable, ancient knowledge found in old vineyards.
“Old wine from a vine is a lesson in history, “said Cassandra Felix, Brandel Wine’s brand director.
Sarah Abbott, MW, CEO and founder of Swirl Wine Group Limited, agrees. “Traditional old vines open the cultural, agricultural and human heart of the wine,” he said, “effortlessly combining the humanity, nature and qualities of a wine with what is in the glass.”
Abbott’s passion for these old, labor-intensive vineyards led him to co-organize The Old Wine Conference to arouse interest in this wine.
Such old vineyards are extremely rare. Most winery vineyards are replaced every 30 years to maintain strength, change varieties or remove diseased plants.
“If the old vineyards hadn’t made great wine, they would have been replaced long ago,” said Bruce Tyrell, wine maker and managing director at Tyrell’s Wines in Hunter Valley, Australia.
But with the right breed, in the right place, with the right treatment and viticultural practices can last a long time. A patient vine grower knows that an old vine can produce excellent fruit.
But what, right? Is An old creeper?
“Old” means a lot to different viticulturists. In France, Old vines Usually refers to vineyards older than 30 years. South Africa’s Old Vine Project and Chile’s Vigno, centered on Carriganan, recognize an old vine at 35 years old. The Historic Vine Society of California qualifies a vine as old over the age of 50.
Australia’s Barosa Old Vine Charter offers tiered categories: Old Vines (over 35 years old), Survivor Vines (70-plus years old), Centenarian Vines (100-plus years old) and Ancestor Vines (125-plus years old).
These enchanting gems are the teacher: providing insights into the past, instructing sustainable farming, and most importantly, making uniquely exceptional wines.
Wine’s Global Heirlooms
With vineyards in 1828, Hunter Valley is the oldest vine-growing area in Australia. Many of the region’s centuries-old vines were planted for its once-exciting industry.
“HDV Vineyard has some checkered past,” said Bruce Tyrell, now a fourth-generation winemaker and managing director of his family’s estate. Planted in 1908 by the Hunter Valley Distilling Company, HDV is considered to be the world’s oldest ever-growing vineyard in Chardonnay.
Tyrrell referred to HDV as a sacred place because “it is extremely rare, our closest ancestor, an invaluable resource.”
Feelings carry over the world. “Stand back and listen, the vineyard will tell you what it needs,” said Rosa Krueger of the Old Vine Project in South Africa.
Older vines require careful attention to survive, and many older vineyard stewards follow sustainable farming practices, focusing on biodiversity, and soft soil practices. With roots up to thirty meters, these vines are rewarded with a unique expressive wine.
In California, thanks to the 1980 White Ginfandel Craze, the state retains many traditional ginfandel vineyards. Yet one of its oldest vineyards is not a gene, but sinsalt. Planted in 1886, Lodi’s Bechthold vineyard is considered to be one of the oldest sinensite vineyards in the world.
Tegan Pasalakoa, a wine maker at Turley Wine Sellers, called the gem “the dodo bird of California viticulture.” Under the watchful stewardship of Kevin Phillips, vice president of operations at Michael David Winery, these herbs continue to produce much-needed, old-fashioned wine.
Make sure consumers get the message
The industry may like wine, but some consumers struggle to understand why old vines are important – and what they mean by wine. The wine industry is trying to bridge the gap.
“We have a gem of a story that is in its infancy,” said Sarah Abbott, MW. “But we have to work together to make it stand out and show it.”
The Lodi Wine Region of California has launched a “Save the Old” campaign designed to bridge the education gap between consumers and old wine wines.
Stuart Spencer, executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission and wine maker at St. Amant Winery, hopes that wine lovers will embrace the traditional herbs as a family legacy that “connects directly with their souls.”
Wine traders and Somalis also play a role in consumer education. Jim Knight, proprietor of The Wine House in Los Angeles, said, “High quality old grape wines deserve a high price point, especially based on labor and yield.” “I go after the wines that have something special going on in the vineyard that is making a kick-ass wine.”
Sommeliers are well versed in treasuring old vine wine, but at times limited to any table, the value of this vine is often overlooked when presenting wine. Brian Huin, Advanced Somalier and Assistant General Manager, Major Food Group, said: “I think we sometimes forget to translate their attraction to customers.”
What is old is new again
The old vineyards are the time machines – talking to the heart through the links of the past, leading the way to sustainable agriculture, and most importantly, the palate with the gift of high quality, unique wine.
“The great Nelson Mandela said, ‘You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re coming from,'” said Rosa Krueger of the Old Vine Project in South Africa. I think in a sense, old vineyards show it. “