Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I Feel So...Old

It's official: I'm old. Sometimes I even feel as old as this old zinfandel vine looks. (picture of Old Vine Zinfandel from Alderbrook)

Decanter magazine reported that Australia's Yalumba Winery has decided to bring order to chaos in wine labeling by precisely setting out in an "Old Vine Charter" what counts as an "old" vine, what counts as an "antique" or "very old" vine, and what counts as an "exceptionally old" vine. 35 years of growth is all it takes to be "old." Antique, I am happy to report, is 70 years old or more. And "exceptionally old" vines are 100+ years old. What that means is that most reading this blog are old in vine-years. Or they soon will be.

When I pick up a bottle that says "Old Vine" I tend to see it as a marketing strategy, which is all the more reason to applaud Yalumba Vineyards for trying to set some standards in the industry. If "old vine" is to mean anything more than just a marketing pitch, it has to signify something. At Alderbrook in the US, for instance, "old vine" means a vine that has been in use for at least 40 years. At Seghesio, all "old vine" wines are made from fruit that comes from vines that are at least 60 years old. Dry Creek "old vine" zinfandels are made with fruit from 50-100 year old vines.

I suppose that a "middle-aged vine" designation is neither likely nor desirable. But with this range of opinion on what constitutes "old" I think the buyer should beware. Your "old vine" wine may be younger than you are!


Anonymous said...

Wonder if Yalumba is responding, in part, to the wineries in Australia like Mollydooker whose vines are relative babies, and don't qualify for ANY of those designations?

All in all, this is a very amusing post!

Anonymous said...

And then there is the issue of converting to "grape years" - are they 7 to 1 like dog years?

Of course, the real issue is this curious notion that just because the vines are "old" they somehow guarantee that the wine will be inherently superior to wine made from "young" vines. But if you can get people to argue about the definition of "old", it kind of side steps that issue doesn't it?

(BTW: the Blogger word verification word for this comment is "tispzzby", which somehow seems appropriate...;)

Anonymous said...

I've always thought it was pure marketing myself. One Long Island winery has "Old Vines" on it's reserve wines (in lieu of reserve), which ARE made with their oldEST vines.

Of course, the entire Long Island region is only 35 years old. And few of those vines remain.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, I'm old too!

My understanding is that the value of old vines is the same as that of poor soil: the vine is stressed and thus produces less fruit, but fruit with more concentration. I never have understood why people advertize "young vines" on their labels, except as fair warning?

Kudos to Yalumba for at least attempting to define this vague and confusing term. Now if only someone would set parameters for "young" vines?

Anonymous said...

Deb, I must respectfully disagree, for I'm quite certain that you are quite a valuable, vivacious vieille vigne! :)