Why They Matter
Vines are very much like people. When they are young, they grow at great speed and yield grapes with a lot of energy. (Ever try putting a toddler down for naptime? Yeah, vines can be hyperactive like that). As they age, vines will yield less fruit, and if they have lived a long and healthy life, the grapes they do yield can have exquisite character. I like to think of these vines as carrying a certain wisdom from their experience.
However, vine age is relative, as some grape varieties, like Grenache, can live for 150+ years, while others hardly ever reach their 40th birthday.
Because of this, the old vines icon requires a bit of a judgment call on my part. But for the most part, it signifies that the winery has one or more wines that benefit from the wisdom of vines that are 50-plus years old. It also indicates some degree of mastery, as this article by Vicki Denig nicely points out: balancing vine health and profit is no easy task.
Old vines can also carry cultural and historical significance. On Mount Etna, it was the century-old vines of Nerello Mascalese and Carricante that preserved one of the wine world's greatest gems — the heritage of volcanic winemaking on the mountain's steep slopes. The wine industry had fallen onto hard times, but it was these enduring vines that revealed the potential for greatness on the mountain. The same can be said for many wine regions in Georgia, Armenia, Greece, Croatia and Hungary — places where the popular wine world is just catching up to their mind-expanding sense of lineage. And in the storied vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Napa Valley and Australia's McLaren Vale, it is the old vines that tell the most interesting stories through their wine.
And just like people, these compelling stories reveal emotions, textures and even colors we never knew existed. It's safe to say that, yes, old vines matter very much.