Time To Recognize the Vines
Upon reading my last post about my status as Wine Czar, Harold Baer, publisher of the Colorado Wine News, passed on to me a very interesting initiative carried out by Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family owned winery.
Yalumba has created an "Old Vine Charter".
What is it?
OLD VINE = a vine that is 35 years of age or older
ANTIQUE VINE = a vine that is 70 years of age or older
CENTENARIAN VINE = a vine that is 100 years of age or older
TRI CENTENARIAN VINE = A vine whose life has spanned 3 centuries
While this last designation is odd insofar as what separates it from a CENTENARIAN VINE today is 8 years, the project is interesting. According to the folks at Yalumba they hope to spur discussion with their in-house Old Vine Charter. There is regulation in Australia that defines "Old Vine" or any of the other other designations that Yalumba lays out here.
I once heard Will Bucklin of Bucklin and Joel Peterson of Ravenswood offer similar definitions of old vine as well as offer similar distinctions for vines of varying ages.
The really critical thing about the idea of "Old Vine" is that a vine of significant age does NOT necessarily deliver grapes that will necessarily produce "better" wines. However, most everyone who has worked with well established, older vines (particularly those more than 50 years of age, seem to agree that these vines establish a natural balance of fruit and vegetation growth and they appear to weather both very cold and very hot weather particularly well.
Others will suggest these wines tend to produce fruit that is particularly intense or powerful. That is not my experience.
What I HAVE noticed about old vine vineyards however is that when particularly old, say in the 80-100 year range, they almost always are field blends when located in California. They almost always possess some combination of Zinfandel, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache and Petite Sirah.
It is this that I believe makes Old Vine vineyards so unique and in many cases account for the unique character that is often assigned to the wine produced from these grapes.
The best example of this phenomenon is the Old Hill Ranch planting in Glen Ellen that was first planted in the middle of the 19th century. Today one finds more than 25 different varieties of vines planted in its primary 14 acres.
If it were up to me, I would want to regulate the use of the term "old vine" long before I got to the term "reserve". It is more easily quantifiable than anything that can be done with the term "reserve". In addition, while there is no quantifiable improvement in quality that comes with making wine from old vines, there is a strong presumption that there is something special about these vineyards.
One thing California has never done is look to the few remaining old vine vineyards and see them as landmarks. They should be recognized and designated as such. They represent a significant part of the state’s agricultural history. And given the status of grape growing in this state they deserve to have that significance recognized.
It is unlike that the state or federal government would ever work on moving toward a rule for use of the term "Old Vine" on American wine labels despite the fact they should. Given that, would it not be interesting and useful for an appellation organization to create a policy similar to what Yalumba has put in place. It would be nice to see a symbol on a label of Russian River Valley Zinfandel that told me that by using the term "old vine" we know that it means the grapes used to make the wine came off a vineyard that is at least 75 years old.