It seems to be the hottest thing at the moment, similar to denim shirts, designer beards with Brill cream and sporrting your grand-dad’s shoes.
Ok, maybe not that hip, but the “old vines” trend is certainly not gathering moss at the moment, and for good reason.
Let’s get this little marketing nugget out of the way first: “old vines make better wine” Hogwash. Not all old vines make great wine, just like not all old people are likable; if those vines are unhappy in their home, no matter how long they stand there, they will remain unhappy.
But: when, by design or default, vines do end up in the right spot with the right plant material, they DO produce grapes that can be transformed into magical wine. The reasons are many and there are probably again as many factors we don’t yet understand or even know of. The main reason we do know is that old vines, after years of battling nature, have devised ways to deal with heat, drought, rain etc. More likely than not, their root systems have dug so deep and settled so well that they can stand up to most of natures curve balls.
Old vines also seem naturally control or limit their crops; it could be due to old age, or wisdom… who knows? What we know is that the resulting grapes tend to be more concentrated and textured than the grapes of young turks.
The rules and regulations around when one may call a wine “made from Old Vines” differ from one country to the next; Australia and California bizarrely has some of the oldest producing vines in the world (blame a little pset call Phylloxera) in France its called Vieille Vigne, in SA we start murmuring old vine at 30 years, but mostly 45 years is seen as the aim.
Chenin blanc is the obvious candidate for flying the old vine flag in SA, but don’t discount Semillon and Muscats of all sorts. Chenin together with Ugni blanc were planted by the thousands of hectares back in the KWV days to supply “stookwyn” for the brandy game. When the game changed plenty of these vineyards were grubbed up to and replaced with anything from Sauvignon blanc to Merlot…… Granted plenty of these vineyards deserved the rear end of a Caterpillar, but we also lost many hectares of old (and when I say old, I mean 60 to 80 year old vines) that could have fast forwarded our industry. Hindsight is 20/20 and we lost a great deal of potential with unreasoned market chasing.
Luckily the tide has changed. More and more cellars, including the big guys are now going out of their way to isolate and nurture these old vines. True, not every bottle you pick up with “Old Vines” on its label will be an earth shattering experience, but you at least you can say you are supporting the protection of a national treasure. The Mooiplaas Houmoed Chenin Blanc in this month’s selection is a true testimony to the importance of Old Vines. Enjoy!
The Tank & Barrel Team