View from The Vineyard: June

WRITTEN BY Shane Golden

July 5, 2024

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View from The Vineyard: June

by | Jul 5, 2024 | Fashion & Lifestyle

Shane Golden

5 Jul, 2024

Caring for the elderly

Shane Golden, Manager of Whelehans Wines

          “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards” Søren Kierkegaard

A question for your next table quiz. Where is the oldest registered vine in the world? You may be as surprised as I was to find that it grows in Hampton Court Palace, the heart of Tudor England. Pragmatically named “The Great Vine”, it stretches to over 120 feet and also happens to be the worlds largest, capable of producing over 380 kg of grapes per harvest.

No official age is given for the Žametovka vine grown in Maribor, Slovenia but it’s thought to be even older still.

“Vieilles Vignes”, “Alte Reuben”, “Viñas Viejas” or “Old Vines” are terms you will see more and more on wine labels these days. While not legally defined, a reasonable starting point is any vine over 35 years old. Like many of us, old vines will start to lose productivity at this age but will start making up for it in terms of quality. Wines produced from these generally show more  concentrated and intense flavors, proving the adage that less is more.

This loss of productivity combined with the law of diminishing returns means that large-scale bulk producers are less inclined to cultivate them. It is far more likely that relatively smaller farmers are those who champion them the most. Paradoxically, you are also more likely to see old-vine wines in the newer wine-producing regions of the world for a very specific reason.

Mid-19th Century wine growers all across Europe were faced with a new ecological crisis in the form of Phylloxera. A destructive vine disease, if your vineyard were infected then the results were calamitous, all would be lost There are a number of methods of prevention but no known cure. Some vineyards survived in ignorance, those with very sandy or volcanic soil in regions with a dry climate were spared. It took almost 3 years to find a fix. During this time everything from burying live toads to having Brass Bands march and play through your rows (yes, you read that correctly) were tried. When the fix did arrive it required a year-zero reset.


A Vine Infected with the  Aphid, Phylloxera Vastatrix

The disease itself originated in North America but over time vines there had already developed resistance. The invention of the steamship in the late 1830s and with its faster transatlantic crossings, meant that the phylloxera pest could survive a trip now measured in days rather than weeks. Progress is a double-edged sword.

The fix then was a victory for practical common sense. European vines were grafted onto American rootstocks so vineyards had to be uprooted left, right and centre all across the continent. The process was slow since newly planted vines take a minimum of 3 years before producing fruit good enough to bottle, and at least 7-8 years before peaking. Vines were still being replaced this way in 1950s France. Combine all this with the demands of brute force commercialism and it should be easy now to see why old vines are less en vogue than they should be.

This was the story in Europe, but at least the so-called New-World countries fared a little better. The natural resistance of the American rootstock means that old-vine labels are quite common. Old Vine Zinfandel (the same grape as Primitivo) from Lodi in California is readily available in this country and relatively pocket-friendly. Expect rich, intense and concentrated flavors. These wines are not shy and retiring.

While not entirely Phylloxera-free, large parts of Australia’s wine growing regions are largely designated as being free of the disease by virtue of their remoteness. It contains an out-sized number of vines older than 100 years and even has a category called ”Ancestor Vines” for those older than 125 years. I was lucky enough to taste Langmeil’s 1843 Freedom Shiraz made from the oldest Shiraz vines in the world recently. If you ever fancied drinking liquid cashmere then this is the wine for you.

In the battle against climate change the real value behind old vines has only started to be appreciated recently. Jancis Robinson and Tamlyn Currin behind the Old Vine Registry and Rosa Kruger of the Old Vines project in South Africa are spearheading significant movements to track and trace relevant plantings. What’s now becoming more apparent is that old plantings are naturally more resistant to climate change. Roots go deeper so they have naturally more access to water and minerals while their trunks are thicker providing added protection against disease. They do appear to be more adaptable to extreme year-on-year weather-variations and there’s good reason to believe that they are more expressive of terroir than younger vines. Proof, if needed, that there is wisdom in old age.

Old vines represent a link to the past while at the same time contributing to a sustainable future. To move forwards we sometimes need to look backwards.


Wine of the Month


Château De Fesles, La Chapelle, Vieilles Vignes 2019


Tasting Notes:- While the majority of dry white wines are made for early drinking  this is a wine that is just now in its ideal drinking windows. Rich and floral on the nose with aromas of Chamomile, Lime and Fern. On the palate you get honeyed pear, baked apple, lemon, white peaches and a hint of creaminess. Full-bodied and concentrated, the combination of old vines and 12 months oak aging dials up the intensity of flavors. Think of it as a cross between dry Riesling and a full-bodied Chardonnay. Each glass gives you something a little different!

Grape: 100% Chenin Blanc

Region: Loire, France

ABV: 14%

Ageing: 12 Months in old oak

Food Pairing:  Amazing with Scallops, a Mediterranean Vegetable Frittata or creamy Chicken dishes




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