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Old Vines are generally considered in most wine producing cultures to produce better quality fruit for producing wine than younger vines. The French call them vieilles vignes, the Spanish vides viejas.

It is the nature of young vines to prioritize growth and vigor over crop development. They grow faster, react more sensitively to diseases, pests, and weather anomalies, produce more sugar per pound of fruit and "ripen" faster than more mature vines. Their fruit often seems to taste more direct and simple, less interesting and complex.

Older vines have acclimated to their environment and become more established and secure. They ripen their fruit more slowly and tend to be more reliable and even in their ripening cycles from vintage to vintage, without much regard to environmental distractions.

Older vineyards planted to Zinfandel are particularly common since this variety can be both fairly productive and seems to resistant many diseases to which other varieties succumb. Zinfandel vines also tend to ripen their fruit very unevenly, especially in youth, but increasingly less so as the vines mature, therefore older vines are prized.

Old Vines sometimes appears on wine labels, although there are no standards or legal requirements for its use. Old Vines is a relative term; there is little agreement within the industry about what constitutes or defines an Old Vine. Some growers think it should be as little as 25, although more would hold out for 40 or more as the minimum standard.

The average life span of a vine or vineyard is most often determined by its owner, based on productivity. The average age when a California vineyard gets replanted is 25-30 years old. Individual vines and vineyards may live a century or more, if healthy, depending upon their economic worth, which is the quantity of fruit produced, counterbalanced by its quality, and the supply of and demand for that variety.

The Historic Vineyard Society was founded in 2011, specifically to record and preserve Old Vineyard plantings in California.

Page created March 12, 2008; updated October 4, 2014
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