What does “Old Vine” mean?
What Does "Old Vine" Mean?
You see the words "Old Vine" on lots of wine bottles these days, most often though you see it on Zinfandel bottles. Why do wine producers put it on their labels and why would you want a wine from old vines versus one from younger vines?
Why you want old vine wines - Short answer: They taste better!
1) As vines get older, their trunks thicker and their roots systems get larger and go deeper into the soil. This means they have a more consistent and stable source of water and nutrients.
2) Weather conditions, especially extremes, don't phase them as much and a grape grower knows pretty much what they're going to get out of the vineyard from year to year.
3) Older vines produce smaller yields. This means that the vine is putting all the nutrients and energy it gets from its ever growing root system into a smaller amount from fruit, concentrating the flavors of that smaller yield. Most vines, as they age, produce a smaller amount of fruit year to year until they hit a plateau and stabilize, producing around that same amount of fruit for the rest of their lives. For many varietals, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot..., this plateau is so low that a grower begins to get so little fruit from the vineyard that they have to either start charging more per ton of fruit because it takes more vines to yield that ton, or rip the vine up and plant new one. For Zinfandel, Grenache, Shiraz and a few other varietals, while they produce less than young vines, they still produce enough fruit that growers still get enough fruit per vine/acre that prices aren't too high.
4) The holy grail for grape growers is "perfect ripeness." Older vines tend to fruit that ripens more evenly and easily, allowing growers to harvest fruit that reaches their idea of perfect ripeness more predictably.
So how old is an "old vine?" - This one's a little trickier
Sadly there is no LEGAL definition of old vine, which means a producer can label anything what want as "old vine" and not suffer any repercussions should the wine not contain any fruit from what any reasonable person would call and "old vine." For respectable producers, few would consider anything less than 25 years old as old vine, the age where most vines start producing less fruit.
So what does "old vine" mean for respectable producer? While there isn't any real consensus among grape growers, producers and the TTB, we like the Lodi Grape Growers Association's proposal:
- Old Vine – 50 years or older
- Heritage Vine – 65 years or older
- Ancient Vine – 80 years or older
- Historic Vine – 100 years or older
Some Old Zin’s to try:
Carol Shelton "Wild Thing" Old Vine Zinfandel - Reg: $24.99, Taylor's: $22.99: Old Vine Mendocino Zinfandel is a treasure. Grown on the benchlands and slopes of mountainsides — this 60 plus year old vine Zinfandel was named for these wild- looking vines and also for the uninoculated, or “wild,” yeast ferment that was used to create it.Aromas of black cherry, ripe plum and raspberry fruit combine with a hint of cigar box, and vanilla-oak baking spice loveliness. Smoothly textured in mouth, and the palate is very creamy and round, with a finish that is long with lush jammy fruit.
Klinker Brick Winery Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel $22.99: Klinker Brick's flagship Zinfandel, is made from vineyard blocks up to 120 years old. Delta Breezes and the associated fog allow us to retain above average acidity for the region, providing notes of dark cherry and spices. Barrel fermentation provides additional structure to a thin skinned varietal. The extremely low yields of century old vineyards bring notes of raspberry and cranberry, with a hint of black pepper.