What is it about old vine wines that’s so special? Let’s explore some of the theories about aging vineyards and why they’re so rare.

Perhaps you spotted the words “old vines” printed on a bottle label. Or, maybe you heard some besotted crony at the local wine bar loudly profess a love for old vine Zinfandel. You can’t let a tasty option elude your palate, let’s figure out why these elderly grapevines are the real deal.

But first, are they?

How Old Do Vines Need To Be To Make Good Wine?

Here’s a brief lowdown on the lifecycle of a grapevine:

  • After you plant, it takes about three years for a grapevine to produce fruit.
  • A vine reaches “adulthood” around seven or eight years.
  • A “mature” grapevine is said to be anywhere from 12–25 years old.
  • “Old vines” are usually more than 25 years, and preferably more than 50 years old!

head - goblet pruned old vines - library vineyard petite syrah napa valley

head - goblet pruned old vines - library vineyard petite syrah napa valley

Many old vineyards use head-pruned or “goblet” trained vines. Photo by d4v

What’s interesting is that over the lifecycle of a grapevine there are some noted changes that give aging vineyards unique qualities:

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  • They produce concentrated fruit

    Old vines tend to lose productivity with age. Many believe that this increases the concentration of the fruit and yields more concentrated wine.

  • Their roots run deep

    This sounds nice but it also means that vines pull their nutrients and water sources from far below the surface. For this reason, older vines don’t suffer as much vintage variation and tend to be more draught/flood tolerant.

  • Ripeness isn’t a problem

    The real issue with ripening fruit (especially with red wines) is the tannins. Unripe tannins can taste green and astringent. Producers note older vines tend to achieve physiological ripeness more consistently.

  • They take care of themselves

    Caretakers of elderly vineyards tend to not need to do as much futzing (as long as the vines are healthy). Still, one must be very careful not to damage the vine!

The problem with old vines (if you can call it that) is reduced production. Less production means less money for a grape grower.

Additionally, older vineyards aren’t on trend; you’ll find them planted with oddball varieties like Petite Sirah, Trousseau, Zinfandel, and Carignan. This means a grape grower can’t charge a high price for their fruit.

Stara Trta is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the oldest living grapevine in the world.