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How Old Are Old Vines?

Ed Dibble Oct 16, 2006 11:37 PM

Just had a nice bottle of Ballentine "Old Vines" Napa chenin blanc. Reading the back label, I learned that the vines were over a quarter of a century old. That's only over 25 years, which doesn't seem very old to me. I would think that there should be some chenin blanc vinyards with 50 or 60 year old vines as chenin blanc was one of the first white varietals I ran into, and it seemed like it was a common wine back in the 50s and 60s.

Does that mean that most California vinyards have been planted (or replanted) in the last 25 years?

Has anyone else run across wines from "old vines" that didn't seem very old to them?

BTW, I am not complaining about the wine, which was deeply and intensely flavored. If the back label had said the vines were 60 years old, I would have believed it.

ed

  1. Melanie Wong Oct 18, 2006 04:47 AM

    Another way to look at this is to conider that in California's premium wine growing regions, vines are considered for uprooting at 25 years of age. So any vine that stays in the ground beyond the age of 25 could be considered old. Productivity declines to a point that the vine is no longer economic at that point, making it a candidate for replanting. I'm told that tax depreciation schedules also play into this economic decision.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong
      Robert Lauriston Oct 18, 2006 04:23 PM

      On the other hand, many of the best wines in the world come from vines that are a lot older than that.

      The good is the enemy of the best in the wine business.

      1. re: Melanie Wong
        s
        Steve K Oct 18, 2006 05:41 PM

        All the better reason not to "diss" Cline for a word.

      2. c
        Chris Weber Oct 18, 2006 01:13 AM

        A few comments. The people who said "old vines" or "vieilles vignes" are unregulated terms are correct, like "fresh" applied to food.

        But there was another question raised about how old California's vineyards are. If you haven't heard the story...

        Most people recall that in the late 1800's, some American vines made it over to Europe and infected them with Phylloxera and wiped out almost all of the vineyards there. The solution was to replant European cuttings grafted onto American rootstock. American vines are immune to Ph. since it comes from here. So now, almost all vines in the entire world (some notable exceptions) are grown on American roots.

        But in California, the geniuses at UC-Davis, who are the gurus of the California wine industry, recommended a rootstock that was a cross between one that was Phylloxera immune and one that was not. That's why in the last 10-15 years or so, an awful lot of California wineries have had to pull out all their vines and start over. Hmmmm, they went to college for that? A lot of people told them it was a bad idea, but...

        1. themis Oct 17, 2006 04:59 PM

          Er, what? I had no idea 'old vine' had anything to do with the age of the plant growing the grapes. I was told that that meant old world, not old vine. That cuttings taken directly from Europe and planted here, hence from the old world, are old vine wines. And that some disease or must wiped out most of the vines in Europe, at one point, so vineyards had to be replanted with cuttings from the new world, and therefore old vines were rare in both there and here. It's a strain thing and not an actual age thing, I thought. Hence you could have planted an old vine vineyard last year and be drinking it now and call it an old vine wine, not that the field had to be planted a quarter-century ago.

          I could be wrong, truly, that's just the impression I've recieved.

          2 Replies
          1. re: themis
            w
            Wineman Oct 17, 2006 05:26 PM

            As Carswell said earlier in this posting, the term old vine or ancient vine does refer to the age of the plant itself. I like the depth and intensity that is often achieved. Particularly in Zin. It is something that I look for. Since there is no rule or law that regulates its use, the consumer just has to let market forces regulate it until some legal guideline immerges.

            1. re: themis
              s
              Steve K Oct 17, 2006 05:56 PM

              Wrong impression. Newly planted vineyards see a significant, and improved, grape even in the first few years. Age matters. How deep, and into what soils, the roots go matters.

            2. howefortunate Oct 17, 2006 02:46 AM

              I have been under the impression that old vines are at least 50 years old. There are a number of old vines in Lodi and Amador County in California that are more than 90 years old. Renwood (previously mentioned) being one of the wineries known for their great old vine Zinfandel.

              howefortunate
              http://www.cheers2wine.com

              4 Replies
              1. re: howefortunate
                b
                BN1 Oct 17, 2006 03:45 AM

                I'm confused. I thought the article I read in the wine section of SF Chronicle said that Renwood's vines were clones of the Grand Pere Vinyard. Do they have old vine wines of their own?

                1. re: BN1
                  w
                  Winemark Oct 17, 2006 09:51 AM

                  Yes and no. Renwood controls by long term contract more Old Vines Vineyards than any other winery in the Sierra Foothills. They also own about 400 additional acres that go into the Sierra Series (11.99). They do own the name Grandpere and have a vineyard that is planted on those clones, which are the oldest Zin clones in California. Grandepere was originally called the Downing Ranch and it is slowly dying out and Renwood actaully took the clones to continue the strain.

                  1. re: Winemark
                    b
                    BN1 Oct 18, 2006 04:36 AM

                    Thank you for the clarification. I think this is an interesting story. However, "They do own the name Grandpere" needs some expansion. Vino Noceto and C.G. di Arie both use juice from the original, real Grandpere Vineyard and have the name on their label; I have bottles of both. The Vino Noceto improved unbeliveably after being open overnight. The SF Chronicle indicated that the poor lady who owns the real Grandpere Vineyard was barely able to hang on to her property under the assult from Renwood.

                    1. re: BN1
                      w
                      Winemark Oct 18, 2006 11:14 AM

                      Does the label read "The Origninal Grandpere" vineyard. I think that is how it was worked out as there was a conflict over the name at one point.

              2. Pei Oct 17, 2006 12:47 AM

                Cline now advertises one of its Zins as "ancient vine." Talk about ridiculous.

                10 Replies
                1. re: Pei
                  w
                  Wineman Oct 17, 2006 01:52 PM

                  Some from Contra Costa Co. that are 80 to 100 years old. Plus some from Lodi planted in 1911.

                  Why is that ridiculous? Just curious.

                  1. re: Wineman
                    Pei Oct 17, 2006 03:30 PM

                    Is that really "ancient"? Maybe I'm being nitpicky, but when you tlak about 100 year old things people usually say "Heirloom" or "Vintage" if not just "Old."

                    "Ancient" is from the time of the pyramids. Unless they mean "Ancient like your grandpappy," not "Ancient like history."

                    I just think that when other wine makers call their vines "Old" when they're 100+ years old, it's ridiculous for Cline to try to get attention for their vines by calling them something they're not.

                    1. re: Pei
                      carswell Oct 17, 2006 03:46 PM

                      >>it's ridiculous for Cline to try to get attention for their vines by calling them something they're not<<

                      Oh, come on. The first definition of ancient in Merriam-Webster's is "having had an existence of many years." Ancient in the sense of historical relic is only the second definition. And let's not forget popular usage ("My dad's ancient." "She drives an ancient Volkswagen." "That's ancient history," i.e. common knowledge.).

                      See also the results of googling "ancient vines" while excluding Cline. Over 12K hits.
                      www.google.ca/search?q=%22ancient+vin...

                      1. re: carswell
                        Pei Oct 17, 2006 04:09 PM

                        Thanks for the link. It's helpful to know that Cline's not the first to call vines ancient, and that it was just I'd never heard the term. Although, I still think it's a little disingenuous for them to call theirs ancient when other ancient vines are over 400 years old.

                        1. re: Pei
                          w
                          Wineman Oct 17, 2006 05:33 PM

                          Ancient or old. It doesn't really matter. I am just curious if you object to the term or to use of the term to decribe a particular style. Do you agree or find that many old vine zins do have a dinstinct style that set them apart from regular bottlings? A greater depth or intensity.

                          1. re: Pei
                            Robert Lauriston Oct 17, 2006 05:49 PM

                            I agree, when the world record holder is a 400-year-old vine and there are numerous 200-year-old vines around the world, it's hyperbolic marketing to call anything from California "ancient."

                            http://www.thezaurus.com/sloveniana/o...

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                              s
                              Steve K Oct 17, 2006 11:05 PM

                              An interesting website, thank you. But Pei's comment that "other ancient vines are over 400 years old" is also a bit hyperbolic when there is *one* vine estimated to be 400 years old and recognized as being unique. Another website of interest is here:

                              http://www.lodiwine.com/history1.shtml.

                              If there are California vines that are 156 years old, how different is that from 200 years old, when qualifying an age as "ancient" vs "old"? So use of the term in California, while valuable in generating this interesting thread of debate, is arguably not unreasonable.

                              As to Cline's subject grapes, they come from, I believe, Oakley and the vines are 112 years old - but I can't seem to find the reference for that. As with many things we can discuss here, the subject is one of relativity. But use of the term "ancient" in this case is not beyond reason.

                              1. re: Steve K
                                Robert Lauriston Oct 18, 2006 04:22 PM

                                Cline's current claim for their "Ancient Vines" carignane, which is weaselier than it was when they first started using the term, is "many of which are over 100 years old." For the mourvedre, they currently don't claim any specific number.

                                http://www.clinecellars.com/trade/tec...

                            2. re: Pei
                              s
                              Steve K Oct 17, 2006 05:52 PM

                              Over 400 years old? Who, where? Are they producing?

                              1. re: Steve K
                                Robert Lauriston Oct 17, 2006 06:21 PM

                                Click the link in my post.

                    2. carswell Oct 17, 2006 12:41 AM

                      Use of the term *old vines* is unregulated in the US, France and, as far as I know, everywhere else. And producers are not blind to the fact that slapping it on a label can add to the product's appeal, since older vines generally have lower yields and thus are thought to make better wines (at least for many Old World wines and some New World grape varieties like zinfandel).

                      Anyway, old is a relative term. Some vines have an optimally productive lifespan of 35 or 40 years, in which case age 25 is getting up there. And if a winery has a lot of five to ten-year-old vines and a parcel of 25-year-old vines, is it wrong for them to designate the wine they make from the latter their old vines cuvée?

                      By the way, for one of the first winemakers to use the term, it means not only ancient vines but also ungrafted ones: Vieilles Vignes Françaises is Bollinger's top Champagne.

                      1. w
                        Winemark Oct 17, 2006 12:35 AM

                        There is no rule or law. The Zin Assoc. ZAP has tried to set some rules in place but they can not find consensus. Producers like Renwood in Amador have a minumum of 50yrs for there "Old Vines" bottling and they go as old as 140yrs in some bottlings.

                        *Disclaimer I work for W.J. Deutsch & Sons, the Marketing and Importing firm, and we are equity partners in Renwood

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