Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Riddle of Old Vines

The inestimable Daily Wine News e-letter of June 17 had a teaser piece headed ‘If it says “Old Vines”, will you buy?’, pointing to an article written by Matt Kramer in the Wine Spectator, and (on my reading) implied that Kramer was sceptical at best.

So it led me to reading the full article, and finding that it was full of interest and right on the money. Over the years, Matt Kramer and I have agreed to disagree on various matters, but not this time. Jumping to his conclusion, he comes down heavily (including via his cheque book) on the side of wines from old vines.

He covers all the bases, starting with the question, how old is old? There is no legal definition anywhere in the world, and only the Barossa Valley has come up with a (non-binding) charter: old vines, 35 years or older; survivor vines, 75 years or older; and centurion vines, 100 years or older.

I’m not going to repeat all the points Kramer makes, because the article is so well-balanced and written. However, there is one comment that may be a statement of the obvious, but I will make it nonetheless. Splitting the difference between old and survivor, and adopting 50 years (as does Kramer) as satisfactorily old, vines this age will only exist if they continue to be in good health and produce high quality grapes in acceptable quantities.

This in turn means the vines must have been planted on the right site – terroir if you will – with well-drained soil providing the right amount of nutrients; row orientation and aspect (north- or northeast-facing in the southern hemisphere) correct; and trellis/pruning method/canopy management all appropriate.

1 comment:

Christian Maul said...

Well that is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the wines thrive in good natural conditions. They produce high quality grapes and that is why they are not ripped out. The second factor why they are not substituted is because they are healthier and they are also continue to be healthier because they have a developed root system to compensate for climate stress.

As they get older the management actually gets easier as the vigour and yield decreases.

However, there is one factor that drove me mad in a former life as scientist and plant modeller. This is the role which the trunk plays as nutrient and energy deposit and its role on the very pronounced biannual bearing (in my case it were peaches, but vines are not much different). After the annual pruning the trunk and root system is basically all that is left, at least in vines. While I was concerned with the quantity side of things, I am firmly convinced there is a quality aspect to it as well. Unfortunately I cannot quantify it and nobody else either. But then, If you would know that, making good wine wouldn't be a challenge

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