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The Beauty and Intelligence of Old Vines

The Beauty and Intelligence of Old Vines

This month we get to hunker down and explore a topic that I hold close to my heart: that of old vines. Old vines have old souls. They know and have seen things over the decades that we can never fully understand. They have evolved accordingly, extended their root systems, and become more intelligent with time, as we all hope to do with experience and wisdom. They are more self-reliant and resilient. They can weather the challenging vintages and reach for some old tricks.

Old vines tend to have greater carbohydrate reserve capacities, which gives them an advantage during the growing season (especially at the start). They understand after a good decade (and more with every passing year) how to strike a healthy vine balance so as not to overproduce its canopy or fruit. They seem to know when its wise to dig deep and draw up water. They have the capacity to even have the choice. This gives them more access to nutrients as well and a greater variety of soil which reflects in finer tuned complexities in flavor and texture on the palate. They are said to accumulate more acidity and can be picked with lower alcohol while boasting full phenolic ripeness(translation - even the lighter seeming wines have more power, concentration and length.

One writer, Robin Lee, may have summed up their magic when she wrote:  ‘As Helen Keller once wrote, the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched but are just felt in the heart. Although wine is primarily tactile, sensual, and physical, and therefore perhaps a fleeting and trivial experience, some wines make a metaphysical claim to being greater than the sum of their parts. In the realm between the material and the transcendental, there are wines that not only engage the senses, but also the intellect, the heart, and the soul. These wines are those which can create an everlasting, living memory and which deserve a place in our hearts.’

Old vines are not seen as economical at a certain point. They are less productive and give smaller yields. As land values increase, the temptation to pull vines is strong - especially if there are other more fashionable (read: profitable) varieties that could take their place. This is certainly something we saw when Pinot Noir became the rage after the movie Sideways was released, and it seemed overnight beautiful old Zinfandel vineyards were grubbed up. But there are entire organizations that are now dedicated to educating growers on the importance and economic opportunities (not to mention sustainability) that old vineyards provide. The Old Vines Project (OVP) is one such outfit in South Africa that began in 2002 but really launched into an organized certification in 2016. The Old Vine Conference in the UK is another effort that aims to help wines from old vines become more economically viable so more growers/wineries appreciate the value they offer. Both support research and greater data so we can learn from these ancient vines.

For a tiny space, we harness a lot of old vine options at So What. Swing by, express your curiosity, and we would love to point out a few... 

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