We have all seen phrases like ‘old vines’ and ‘vieilles vignes’ or ‘alte reben’ on wines labels. These terms do all mean the same thing, but what do they actually mean? Does a wine labelled as old vine mean it will be better quality? Will the wine cost more? These are all valid questions. In fact, of all the terms applied to a wine to define or denote quality, ‘old vines’ is not controlled or required by law. This point leads to more questions! If it is not required by law, why would someone put it on the label? And, more importantly, how old does a vine have to be to be classified as old?
In our opinion, the decision to include old vine on a label is twofold. For many, it does boil down to marketing, though this is the cynical, commercial opinion. However, it is also a declaration, celebrating something that is more of a rarity. As vines age, they can fall foul to diseases and many do die, only the survivors reach ripe old ages. Ultimately, as the age they yield less, often more concentrated, fruit. Plus, there is something wonderful about a gnarly old vine – they have survived much and have a unique beauty.
So, how old is old? There is no legislation to define this, but we feel 50 years old is the point at which a vine should be falling into the aged category. It is at this point in the life of a vine that its vigour (reflected in grape production and foliage growth) starts to plateau at a much lower level. Indeed, it has already declined steadily since its glory days in its 20s. Unnervingly, this degeneration might sound frighteningly familiar to anyone over the age of 29!
Should they be more expensive? In our view, the overall quality of the wine, reputation of the grower, production costs and supply and demand should govern this decision. The age of the vines and their yield could be part of this mix. But vine age is, by no means, the only reason a wine should hold a higher price tag. In fact, if you hunt around you can find great old vine wines at incredibly affordable prices, particularly from countries like South Africa and Spain.
Old Vines and Vieilles Vignes are not a negative, but alone, they should not drive your buying decision. That said if it encourages you to try something new, we are all for it. (Head to our post Six Ways to Spice Up Your Drinking, to find out more about changing up your every day drinking.)
Happy drinking folks!