Old vines, or heritage vines as they are also known, may typically conjure up nostalgic images of gnarly wood, but their importance in today’s winemaking landscape goes much further than aesthetics. Adapted over time, these vines have had to become tolerant to their environments – developing, for example, resistance to drought and disease.
Genetic material gained from the preservation of these vines can in turn be used for new plantings, thereby helping to safeguard against potential future problems in a world where climate change is becoming ever more of a threat.
By the very nature of their long-term survival, old vines have often been planted in locations well suited to their varieties, hence many old vines produce grapes that are indigenous to their region. Their preservation therefore offers consumers a wider choice of wines on the shelf and also protects these individual varieties from being lost.
According to viticultural expert Professor Attilio Scienza of the University of Milan, old vines produce fewer grapes than younger vines, and the additional effort that an old vine expends in bringing its grapes to maturity equates to higher acidity and lower sugar and colour intensity.
The resulting wines may show more concentrated fruit, but is there a flavour that defines them? Perhaps not, but there is a ‘spirit’, says Sarah Abbott MW, co-founder of The Old Vine Conference, a non-profit organisation bringing industry professionals together to value and protect old vines.