Old vines, “vieilles vignes” or “alte reben” is often present on wine labels to denote that the vines from which the wine was made are of a ripe old age. Despite the strict rules which apply to how wine is made, there is still no clear definition of how old is old enough to appear on the label.
It’s quite similar to the term “Reserve” – no one, apart from the winemaker really knows what it means, but it’s an indication of quality of some sort, if the winemaker (or his marketer) is honest enough.
Why focus on old in the first place?
The belief is that the older the vine, the better the wine. Why? Older plants produce less fruit (yield) and the thinking is that this concentrates or intensifies the flavours.
How old is old?
If it wasn’t for Phylloxera in the close of the 19th century, we may have had some truly ancient vines in Europe. There are rumours of a 400 year old still producing fruit in Slovenia, but to get the oldest commercially wine, we need to head to the Barossa Valley in South Australia.
Langmeil Freedom vineyard, 167 years old
One of the oldest there is Langmeil Freedom vineyard whose Shiraz vines have been growing there since 1843, making them 167 years old. They called it the Freedom Shiraz and it’s available from Curious Wines here (€65). Sounds expensive, but the vines from which the wine is made were planted by Lutherans who were escaping religious persecution and war in Prussia, and a mere seven years after the state of South Australia was colonised. At the time of planting, we were about to enter the Irish Famine. Think of drinking a glass of history.
Barossa Old Vine classification
Why mention Langmeil? Well, with no precise definition of what “old” actually means at least we can all agree that 167 is pretty old. In fact, the Barossa winemakers have established their own classification based on vine age, as follows:
- Old vine: 35 years or older
- Survivor vine: 70 years or older
- Centurion vine: 100 years or older
- Ancestor vine: 125 years or older
So, can we still call these Barossa beauties “new world”?