Does an older vine mean a superior wine?

April 21, 2021

Does an older vine mean a superior wine?

For technical Tuesday this week, we're taking a look into the world of 'old vines'. A term synonymous with quality in the world of wine, but does older always mean better?

What is an old vine?


There is currently no legislation on what constitutes an old vine. However, usually, it means a vine is over 40-50 years old. These are rare as vines are exposed to many stresses and strains throughout their life. Most vines will begin to see a decrease in yield after 20-30 years and by 50 years old yields can be so low that cultivation becomes commercially unviable. There are many factors involved in what makes a quality crop and in general older vines produce higher quality wine.

 

New world quality



Like most rules of thumb, there are exceptions. At the famed 1976 Paris blind tasting event, some Californian Cabernets and Chardonnays from young vines came out on top ahead of the French giants such as Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

 

Popular beliefs



A vineyard with a particularly high yield can see flavours and grape quality reduced. It is a widely accepted theory that due to the reduced yield of old vines the quality is higher. Due to the reduced vigour of old vines, the leaves and grapes are exposed to more sunlight, improving the fruit.

 

The exceptions



This balance between leaves and fruit can also explain the paradox that some vines produce their best quality crop when very young. Young vines can have very open canopies, allowing the sunlight to reach the leaves and grapes, in turn improving the quality of the final product.




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