Seeking a Definition for ‘Old Vine’ Wines

Certain types of turtles can live to be well over a hundred years old.

Many of California’s redwood trees range in age from 500 to 700 years.

So, how long could a grapevine be expected to live?

The honest answer is: Nobody knows.

Here’s what we do know…

In the Barossa Valley of South Australia, there are some Grenache vines that are more than 150 years old. In California’s “Gold Country” and elsewhere, there are Zinfandel vines that have passed the century mark.

Once a grapevine attains a certain age—and that age varies by variety and location—it begins to gradually produce less fruit. That can be a double-edged sword from a business perspective.

On one hand, the grapes produced by that vine tend to be highly concentrated in aromas and flavors, and can result in wines with similar qualities. And those wines can command a higher price point.

On the other hand, they may need to carry a higher price because there is less available to sell.<?p>

A number of wineries now label their bottlings made from the fruit of venerable vines as “Old Vine.” Unfortunately, as is the case with the term “Reserve,” there is no legal definition of “Old Vine.” It may not be a matter of “buyer, beware,” but it may not be a bad idea for a buyer to inquire. Just as a teenager would define “old” much differently than a fifty-something person, so, too, can there be wide-ranging perceptions of “Old Vine.”

So how old is old when it comes to “Old Vine” wines? Fifty years? Sixty? Seventy-five? A hundred?

Well, as long as there are grapevines still producing wine-worthy fruit well into their 16th decade, that question will be open to debate. In a way, every vineyard—regardless of its age—is like a laboratory: a place of never-ending study and only occasional iron-clad answers.

Posted in In the Cellar
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