Have you ever wondered what the difference is between old vine and new vine? Old vines are often advertised on the label, but when you’re browsing hundreds of bottles, it’s easy to lose sight of the subtle signals of differentiation. And while almost no bottle will advertise itself as a young vine wine, it’s assumed that there’s a significant difference… and one big enough that no one wants to promote having a young vine.
From Seed to Vine
Part of the reason wine costs so much is that vineyards must grow their vines for two or three years before they’ll even begin growing grapes. That’s two or three years without a profit for a company, just paying out-of-pocket for the massive expenses vineyards accrue to produce the best grapes. Since only healthy vines produce good flavor, most wineries baby their vines better than farmers of almost any other crop.
But as a vine grows, it develops deeper roots, and becomes more efficient in production; they’ll produce more grapes which usually have more unique flavor and character. This is definitely a plus in the category of ‘older and wiser’. But, there’s a moment after the vine’s ‘peak production’, in its 20s or 30s (just like with most people) where the vine stops producing grapes full-throttle… and begins to produce less grapes.
Growing for Quality, not Quantity
At this ‘mature’ stage, the vine will grow smaller grapes, usually packed with significantly more flavor. This is where you get a lot of your more complex wines that are less fruit forward. But if you love the idea of buying just for young or old vines, hold up! There are actually no legal regulations or restrictions for naming a vine ‘old vine’. Someone could easily decide their 5 year old vine is ‘old vine’ and slap it on the front of the label. If you want to be certain, check the back of the label. This is where most wineries will let you know the year the vines were planted.