All over the world old vines get proudly mentioned on labels, in many languages. Such is the value everywhere accorded to old vineyards and the wines they produce.
With my guest Sarah Abbot MW who run the Old Vine conference, we looked at what are the values of old vines and why we should care for them? Sarah aims to create a global category for Old Vine which has she say has been successful for South Africa in the last decade
How does a vine actually achieve old age? This is not as straightforward a question as it seems, considering all of the physical, environmental, social, and economic forces working against agricultural permanence.
First, avoiding certain pests and diseases is key. The root louse phylloxera is largely responsible for the lack of truly old vines around the world. But because it is unable to thrive in extremely sandy soils, some regions, such as eastern Washington or much of Chile, still have vines planted on their own roots. Another major debilitating factor is trunk disease.
A handful of these plague viticulturists, but they all operate via the same mechanism: a malevolent fungus enters the vine, typically during or after pruning, reduces productivity, and eventually causes death. Because a vine receives a fresh set of pruning wounds every season, it naturally follows that older vines are more vulnerable. That said, some varieties are more resistant than others
In many countries, less productive vines continue to be ripped out. They might be replaced by other higher-yielding varieties or entirely new crops. Even the most cherished historic plot may have to be grubbed up if it just does not produce enough fruit to be economically viable, given the labour costs associated with the extra attention they often require.
Across the south of France in the 1990s and 2000s, foreigners snapped up lots of "unproductive" old vineyards. The old French growers were pleased to set up their retirement by selling plots that had been hard to work. The new owners generally had lower hopes for yield, and higher ones for bottle prices, and farmed accordingly.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was possible in the mid 2000s to purchase some of those venerable Barossa parcels. But this was more due to a collapse in buying contracts from multinationals.
In this episode, Sarah talks about what she aims to achieve with her conferences. We delve into the hurdles that a vine needs to overcome to get to old age and the Economic factors.
Sarah also highlights research that shows how vines DNA mutate in their old age showing that they are adapting to their ‘Terroir’ making them vital to the diverse pool of vines and she doesn't fail to mention that many hectares of old vineyards are lost every year.
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