Everybody loves old wines, but what about old vines? An ancient fable recognises the discovery of fermented grape juice and its ‘advantages’ to a woman. Almost 6 000 years later, it is befitting that South Africa’s oldest vines’ conservation was initiated by a woman, Rosa Kruger.
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 35 years.
In 2018, the Certified Heritage Vineyard seal was created. For this prestigious seal to be placed on your wine, the vines should be 35 years old or older. The Old Vine Project also has on record 10 vineyards in South Africa older than 100 years.
The majority of ‘old vines’ are bush vines. They are often un-irrigated, which means that the roots must dig very deep into the soil, searching for water.
Older vines bring a unique texture and complexity to the wine. Therefore, the more authentic expression of terroir, intensity, defined texture and a sense of place. They show more of the terroir and soil.
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.
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.
It is important to note that “Old Vines” wines are not necessarily better than wines from young vines. Instead, they are different. Old vines produce wines that reflect the earth and the terroir they grow in. They reflect the seasons that have come and gone around them.
Be part of this Old Vine Project initiative by supporting these dedicated winemakers. They strive to reclaim an almost forgotten piece of South African heritage.