Strength in maturity? A look at old vines

STYLE AND QUALITY DIFFERENCES

Time can be outlasted by healthy vines with well-established, deep root systems, aided by humans who see particular marketable attributes from the lower- cropping fruit. What is it about the fruit that keeps humans motivated?

An-Old-Vine“In blind tastings”, Carbonneau says, “it is quite often the oldest plot that gets the first place. Wine coming from the oldest plot is perhaps better not because it is richer and more intense, but perhaps it is more delicate, more persistent, more complex – it is difficult to define.” This occurs across grape varieties, he said, though it may be truer for late-ripening cultivars such as Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux or Carignan in the Languedoc.

Carbonneau speculates that full maturity may be harder to obtain in such varieties, implying full maturity is more regularly obtained in old vines. Morande suggests these two grape varieties in Chile also offer more sophisticated, rich and complex wines from old vines.

In the Loire, Dal says old vines give wines with more “minerality, more concentration and complexity, less varietal flavour. People can prefer young vines when they want a lot of varietal flavours on a young wine. This style is sometime actively sought in New Zealand for example.” Indeed Chris Seifried of Seifried Estate in Nelson, New Zealand, says of his Sauvignon Blanc: “Young vines are the most expressive, intense and exciting. The first three or four years are vibrant and loud.”

He adds that crop level is also low in such young vines.

Vine age is argued to add layers to vibrant varietal flavours. Yerko says, “Initially tannins, depending on the site, tend to be more aggressive and fruit characters more straightforward. As the vines age fruit characters are more complex… if not overcropped, fruit can be more complex and concentrated.” Almeida notes “deeper flavours, stronger character, more elegant wines, longer aftertaste, more typicity.”

Added to complexity is consistency, which is, says Sadie, “one of factors in great wine production – great wine through warm, cold, wet, or dry vintages. Old vines give much more consistent quality throughout.”

Some also argue for greater terroir expression from old vines. Almeida says, “Both new and old vineyards show their origin in the quality of their grapes. But this characteristic is enhanced as vineyards get older. Less cultural intervention of the old vineyards allows origin to show more clearly.” Kruger agrees, saying, “Old vines show their terroir more, mainly because they have adapted to their specific terroir and are more adapted to the climatic stresses of their environment, i.e. they hardly ever have a crop they cannot ripen for the season, they hardly ever collapse completely in a heatwave and lose their leaves, and so on.”

However, advancing vine age is not, in itself, enough to guarantee high wine quality. Retamal says, “There are old vineyards that give great wines and other old vines that give very bad wines.” By example, he says, “Many years ago I found a very old [over 150 years] vineyard in Maule Valley. It was Cabernet Sauvignon. It was dry farmed, bush vine – amazing. It turned out to be a bad wine. What was the problem? It was planted in a very warm area for Cabernet Sauvignon, a variety that doesn’t like excessive heat.” The argument returns for cultivar matching to sympathetic sites.

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