Monday, 17 December 2018

Old Vines

It is generally accepted that older vines produce grapes of higher quality but progressively lower yields, so their economic viability eventually comes into question. Currently there is no proper definition of old vines, and producers can label bottles at their own discretion, but they are generally anywhere over 25-30 years old. For commercial wines, as opposed to top level wines where price matters less, 25 years is the general economic limit before grubbing up and replanting. While vines can produce grapes for a century or two, or even more, the costs of their maintenance and falling yields means they become too expensive, however good the quality.

Beautiful gnarled old vines

 It can take up to a decade for root systems to develop fully and grow deep into the soil but this allows the vine to better withstand water stress and build up stronger resistance to diseases while giving more consistent quality and complexity. Some believe that old vines give greater expression of terroir having adapted themselves to it over many years, but naturally this quality depends on many factors such as soil maintenance and the avoidance of over cropping and irrigation. Ungrafted vines give good results, but there are very few of them left. One way to take advantage of old vines´established root systems and effectively rejuvenate the vine is to cut off the scion above the graft and wait for a new bud to grow. For economic reasons most old vines are at serious risk so if these gems are to be preserved something needs to be done, and things are beginning to happen.

Fernando Mora MW with promotional T shirt
Fernando Mora, Master of Wine, has launched a campaign to save old vines in Spain under the slogan Vino de Viña Vieja. The campaign has two stages: identification and dating of old vines followed by promotion of the wine produced from them. He feels that old vines start at 35 years of age and that other categories could be introduced of 50 or 60 years and over 100 years. Much information could be found at the various Consejos Reguladores who will generally have information on dates of planting which they themselves authorised. Once these vines have been identified and registered their owners could use the VVV logo. Old vine classifications in the New World, though not particularly oficial, inspired him to do something similar in Spain. In Australia´s Barossa vines are considered old at 35+, in California 50+, in Chile 30+ and in South Africa 35+.

In the Marco de Jerez there still exist a few vineyards with old vines, usually in the hands of small growers who, because of the low grape price, cannot afford to replant. Often they are still pruned to vara y pulgar, the traditional method. Some notable examples of old vine wines are: Fino Barajuela from Luis Pérez, Vibrations from Muchada Leclapart, Mirabrás from Barbadillo, Blanco from M Ant. de la Riva (Willy Pérez and Ramiro Ibáñez) and Alegria Ancestral from Alba Viticultores.

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