Respect your elders! Are old vines better? Find the answer in today's installment of Ask The Expert!
Today we're back with the second installment of our new Ask The Expert series! "Old Vine" is a hot marketing term these days, but what we want to know is whether these old vines actually make better wine. To help answer that question we've enlisted winemaker Marcelo Morales Calderón of Grandes Vinos y Viñedos in Carinena, Spain home to some truly old vine Garnacha and Carinena.
One note before we get to Marcelo's answer...there is no standard definition of what age classifies a vine as being "old". 40 years old tends to be the general rule, but some marketers sneak that all the way down to 25 years while other areas might use 60+ so be sure to read those labels carefully. And if a winery won't reveal their definition of old vines either on the back label or on their website, that's probably a bad sign.
Now on to Marcelo's answer to the question: Are Old Vines Better?
We classify vineyards that are more than 40 years old as old vines. These are the vines that are very "balanced", which means that their foliage, their roots and their structure naturally produce an amount of grapes that the plant can mature well. This results in limited yields of grapes, but always a consistent and high-level of quality.
These grapes are the most adapted to the climate, and in this area, that means that they are small fruits with thick skins and in looser bunches. The thick skins contribute to intense color and complex aromas, and looser bunches tend to be healthier. The plant can grow these bunches towards the interior of the plant where it receives sun, but not in excess.
Old vines have root systems that have grown deep and laterally over a wide area of soil. This is the key to adapting to different climate conditions every year, while still producing the same consistent level of quality.
Old vines are also able to produce grapes with more local character as they are able to extract nutrients from deep soils. In our case, these soils are from the Tertiary Period and are quite old and unaltered.
The wines from our old vines have more concentration, color, aromatic intensity and personality of our region. They age beautifully in the barrel and later in the bottle. Their generous tannins are mature and round.
Again, I would emphasize that the quality of these wines is very consistent from year to year. For example, in more extreme climates where vines are dry farmed above 500 meters of altitude, Garnacha and Carinena are the varieties best adapted to these conditions and are able to live and produce beyond 100 years of age.
Do you know how deep the roots of your old vines go?
It depends a lot on the type of soil, but usually they are between 5 and 6.5 feet deep and 6.5 feet wide on either side. That gives you a diameter of about 13 feet around the plant!
Do you think that the dry-farmed vines adapt better and live longer?
Yes, I think they are better-adapted. Since they have always had natural, constant production levels and are never forced to produce more (through irrigation), they learn to self-regulate according to conditions. You should never give into the temptation to produce more, which can and does happen when you irrigate.
Special thanks to Marcelo Morales Calderón winemaker at Grandes Vinos y Viñedos for answering this question.