Do old vines make better wines? Chances are you will have seen the term “Old Vine” or one of its foreign equivalent terms such as “Vieilles Vignes”, “Alte Reben”, “Viñas Viejas”, “Vinhas Velhas” or “Antico Vitigno” on some wine labels. There is no requirement under any wine regulations that I know to mention the age of the vines used for wine grape production and yet old vine is a term that seems to be used increasingly frequently and with the implication that old vine wine should be held in high esteem. In this wine blogpost, I’m looking into whether grapes from older vines really do make better wine. HOW OLD ARE OLD VINES? Here in the UK we have an amazing old vine at Hampton Court Palace. Planted in 1768 under Capability Brown’s direction, it is said to be the largest vine in the world but even at circa 250 years old, The Great Vine cannot claim that it is the oldest vine in the world as for a long time Georgia, Slovenia and Italy have claimed to have vines planted in the 17th century. Nor can it claim that its fruit is used for wine since it produces a table grape variety. In fact the 17th century has now been trumped as Weingut von Racknitz, a former monastery, in Germany claims to have a 600 year old vine found on an old abandoned terrace. It is hard to imagine when looking at a woody, gnarly old vine that it could produce good quality fruit or indeed any fruit but vines can still produce grapes when very old – those Georgian, Slovenian and Italian 17th century vines are said to be producing grapes still used for wine today. Good quality grapes are not a given however – according to the Old Vine Registry, of which more later, grapes from the 600 year-old German vine taste “terrible, like cucumber”. REGISTERING & DEFINING OLD VINES California started a register of its old vines in 2011; it is believed to have the highest number of old vines and ironically Prohibition played a major role in this as vines were simply abandoned at that time and later “rediscovered”. According to the Californian Historic Vineyard Society website “To qualify as a Certified Historic Vineyard, a vineyard must be a currently producing California wine vineyard with an original planting date at least 50 years ago, in which at least 1/3 of existing producing vines can be traced back to their original planting date.” Over in Australia, the Barossa Valley is proud to have some of the oldest continuously-producing vineyards in the world. It is one of the few wine regions that avoided the phylloxera aphid which is the reason why most of the world’s vines are now grafted onto phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. Understandably keen to protect its precious ungrafted old vines especially after many were uprooted in the 1980s it saw what California was doing and started its own register of old vines. Australia’s Old Vine Charter categorises the old vines further according to their age: Barossa Old Vine – Equal or greater than 35 years of age like the one to the right Barossa Survivor Vine – Equal or greater than 70 years of age Barossa Centenarian Vine – Equal or greater than 100 years of age Barossa Ancestor Vine – Equal or greater than 125+ years of age South Africa in fact has the oldest records of old vines dating back to 1900, a database run by the South African Wine Industry Information Systems (SAWIS). Since I first published a blogpost on this subject in 2017, South Africa’s Old Vine Project, set up in 2002 by viticulturalist Rosa Kruger, launched a Certified Heritage Vineyard seal which certifies that a wine is made from vines of 35 years and older. But producers don’t necessarily always put the seal on their bottles. Conversely some wine producers don’t wait until a vine is 35 or 50 years old before labelling it an old vine; since there is no legal definition of the term ‘old vine’, it is very much a matter of personal preference or perhaps more of marketing preference but as old vine wines are generally and increasingly revered, the term old vine can be misleading. However we are beginning to see some signs of conformity in the registering and defining of the term ‘old vines’… The most significant step in coming up with a worldwide recognised age for old vines since my last update is the 2023 launch of the online registry of old vines that was initiated on a spreadsheet in 2010 by Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages. Now maintained by the Old Vine Conference, a non-profit organisation that aims to highlight the value of old-vine vineyards and make them economically viable, The Old Vine Registry is still very much a work in progress but is already the most comprehensive online database of old vines worldwide. You can search by country or by age and there are links to the vineyard owners’ websites. The ultimate aim is to also provide links so consumers can see where to find a particular vineyard’s wines. But, as mentioned, it is an on-going project and, since few countries have detailed records like South Africa, sometimes an estimation of age is all that is possible. NEW VINES OR OLD VINES – WHICH ARE BETTER? New vines take time to establish themselves; they don’t tend to produce many grapes until year three first concentrating on establishing their root structure and a sturdy trunk. It is usually only by year five or six that the grapes are of use for commercial wine production. After that the vine’s growth below and above ground is more balanced. As it ages further the vine’s growth becomes less vigorous and as a result fewer grapes are produced; this reduction in yield starts as early as the age of 20 years old. This reduction in yield is in fact the very reason why older vines are sometimes ripped out (often with