The Truth About Old Vines


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Last week, a friend was telling me how he usually buys bottles with labels mentioning “vieilles vignes” (AKA old vines) because he considers it an indicator of quality.

While there is some truth to that, there is also much to be said about the subject.

When it comes to dishonest wineries, winegrowers and even merchants (and there are some) the “old vine” mention on the bottle is only a marketing tool. Its main goal is to help the buyer distinguish this very bottle from the rest. The same thing goes for all those medals we can see on bottles nowadays. A good amount of them have no meaning, they’re just here to convince the consumer that the decorated bottle is the better one.

Conclusion : do not trust these indications.

Now, what is an old vine? That is a good question… Up until now in France there is no clear definition of it. That suggests that until the legislation clearly defines it, anyone can call a 7-year-old vine, old. Among professionals, we generally consider old vines a plot of vines that are 40-years-old and more.

A winegrower once told me about red wine that between 0 and 10 years of age, a vine is a child, between 10 and 20 years of age, a vine is a teenager and it finally becomes an adult once it turns 20.

The main difference between old and young vines is their root system. When aging, vines develop a stronger root system and depending on the subsoils, a deeper one. Vines need water especially when the grapes are maturing. For instance, in drought conditions deep roots can tap into water reserves well down in the subsoil, unreachable by younger vines. Thus, old vines remain steadier through seasonal variation, allowing grapes to mature in better conditions.

Without getting too technical, another important point is that older vines lose vigor. They produce less leaves and less grapes which means a lesser productivity than younger ones, AKA less wine. However, with less leaves, the grapes find themselves exposed to the sun even more, allowing them to mature extremely well. That contributes greatly in getting a better quality and more expressive wine.

Therefore, under certain conditions (healthy vineyard, healthy soils, deep root systems, hard-working winegrower, good weather conditions…), you should expect a very different wine if it comes from old vines.

Tasting wise, old vines bring two main characteristics to the wine :

– more complexity in the aromas and flavors

– more flesh and depth in the middle of the mouth (and sometimes a longer finish as well)

Knowing that, you should buy your wine depending on the circumstance. If you’re looking for a dry white wine to share with friends or family after work, a wine coming from younger vines should be perfect : fruitiness, freshness and pleasure. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a red wine to store in your cellar or something to drink alongside a sauce or meat, an old vines’ wine looks like a good choice!