Skip to main content

Laube’s new blog challenges the notion that old vines make better quality wines than those made from new vines. Of course he said the whole thing is a myth based his experience, which he tends to do in most new vs. old debates. It did get me thinking though. To this point, I have mostly accepted that old vines make better quality and more “complex” wines. This is probably due to smart marketing that I bought into, but also some comparative tastings in Bordeaux and Italy. In most cases though, it was comparing a 1st wine or grand vin to a 2nd wine so it probably wasn’t a fair comparison. In my limited experience, the wines made from younger vines showed a bit more up front and simple fruit flavors with less structure, but again this could have been due to a lot of other factors besides the age of the vines.

Anyone have more experience on this topic?
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

It's only one factor. So, older vines from a crappy site won't make a better wine than younger vines from a great site. With some varieties, like Pinot Noir, the first several years of production tend to be fairly simple. Some experts say certain varieties, like Zinfandel, need to be rather old to make a great wine.

I've heard root depth cited as a factor. So, maybe it's true that for one site the best Zin comes from the 40+ year old vines. That doesn't mean that at another site the combination of factors wouldn't allow, say, 10 year old vines to show the same features if cropped properly.

Another factor is some older vines produce smaller berries. One winery I help out with produce a number of Pinot Noirs. Their best is easily the 40 year old vines, small berry, one ton per acre. That winemaker won't even consider a new PN site unless it's older vines. Certainly not the only factor, but crucial to him.

Anyway, the proof is in the pudding. What it says on the bottle is probably more helpful to explain why you liked a wine than to help you predict that you will like it.

Of course "old vines" is an undefined term, so don't expect it to mean much.

And I wouldn't rely on the tasting experience on this from someone who's preference tends to favor ripe and flashy wines over those with depth and complexity.
I think YHN is right - old vines from a crappy site don't make better wine than young vines from a great site.

And that may be the whole point and entirely unrelated to the age of the vines.

Where are the oldest vines? In the crappiest sites? If they were planted by people a long time ago, who were able to pick the best places since they were first, maybe that's the entire story?

Other than that, it's really hard to figure out if there's a difference and if so, what it is. Root depth gets cited but roots don't keep growing forever and at some point, they're not deeper than they were years earlier. And as the greatest nutrients are in the upper layers of soil, that's where the greatest root mass is anyway. There are some roots that are reported to go down 30 feet or so, but when studies have been done, by far the greatest mass of roots, in both young and old vines, are found in the upper 2 meters of soil. Looking at the huge trees that blew over last month, it seems to be the case with them too - 40 foot trees seem to have most of their roots in the top five-six feet of dirt. More importantly, the fine roots, which grow and die each year, bring in most of the water, and they're consequently not nearly as old as some of the deeper, woody roots.

One of the best explanations I've heard in favor of OV is that the xylem of the vine might get some kind of build-up, just like human arteries. There's some research on that and at least one major winemaker/researcher who is studying whether he can make an equal wine with a young vine that's water-stressed and an old vine that's got build-up.

Nice idea but I would like to know why that's even an issue, as a vine can be half dead and still live quite happily. In theory it can live for hundreds of years. They don't, but there's no built-in death gene, at least as far as we know, and usually they die of other things or because we rip them out. But if we leave them alone, they'll just grow new shoots, with clean xylem, so the idea of xylem build-up is iffy.
I'll add an observational factor that I see on single vineyard locations. Young vines tend to rippen at greatly different times based on the strength and condition of the individual plant. Older vines tend to do everything together at the same time as the plants are all very similiar in their health and vigor.

One can compensate for this by doing multiple picks and or severe fruit dropping in a young vineyard. I think the original LaLa's are the most famous example of this approach. Thing is that's expensive and requires a well trained and experienced crew. It's much cheaper and easier to send a crew out into a vineyard where everything is at the same maturity level.
I recently tried Seghesio's Old Vine Zinfandel; they claim the average age of the vines is 90 years. It was much more interesting than most other Zins I've tasted.

I also tasted a Hewitson "Old Garden" Mourvedre recently. Supposedly, it is made from the oldest vines in Australia; planted in the mid-19th century, iirc. It was an excellent wine.
In South Africa, old bush vines Chenin Blanc are well known for their complexity and quality of wine. Some Chenin old bush vines can be more then 45 years old. The Chenin Blanc association in South Africa does a tremendous job promoting the role old bush vine Chenin plays in our SA heritage.

With regards to taste, well old bush vine Chenin incomparison to younger vines is generally richer, more buttery and less acidic and usually matures perfectly in oak.

Add Reply

Link copied to your clipboard.