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What does "old vine" mean?

Categories : History of wine

The term "vieille vigne" ("old vine") used on some wine labels is supposed to indicate that the wine is made from vines considered to be old. However, this term is not governed by any specific legislation and can therefore cover different wine-growing realities. What's more, it is generally assumed that older vines produce better wine, but this too is not always true.

"Old vine"... a relative age

As there is no legal framework for this term, it simply means that the wine bearing it is made from the oldest vines on the estate. It is thought that vines under 20 or 25 years of age cannot (should not) be described as 'old', as it is from this age that they become 'adult'. However, depending on the conditions of planting, production, soil, the quality of the plant material and the grape variety, this marvellous plant can happily reach several centuries of existence! The oldest vine can be found in Maribor, Slovenia, where it was planted 400 years ago. There are also vines dating back to the 19th century in France. This means that the term "old vines" can just as easily refer to young vines of 25 years old as to old vines over 100 years old. This relative age depends on the average age of the vines on the estate. The best thing to do is to ask the question about the age of the vines used to make the wine.

Do old vines make better wine?

Legally, you can produce a wine from a 3-year-old vine. Quality wines made from vines less than 10 years old are generally light and full of freshness. Between 10 and 20 years old, the vines are more fiery, and their vigour needs to be controlled to avoid producing wines with no personality. When the vines reach the age of 20 or 25, yields stabilise and tend to decrease. If the soil (absence of excessively hard rock) and production conditions (quality of plant material, sparing use of fertilisers) allow, the roots will go deeper. It is thought that vines with deep roots and controlled yields produce wines that are richer, more concentrated, full-bodied and more expressive of the characteristics of their terroir.