Crash Course, Wine Life

Older Vines Make Better Wines

In today’s crash course we explain the meaning of ‘Vieille Vigne’, and why it’s important.

“There is a general belief that older vines, when properly handled, will give a better wine”, says Jancis Robinson Master of Wine. How this works is that in the first few years of a vine’s life, the plant will try to bear as much fruit as it possibly can (as seeds help with the development of the species). This results in a large number of grapes per vine, which in turn means that the nutrients have to be shared between them. Ultimately, the more grapes there are, the less flavour there will be as there will a higher water content in each grape.

The practice in the vineyard therefore is to prune the bunches down, making the vine produce less and less fruit as the years and seasons roll on. Thus, the older the vine becomes, the more concentrated the flavours of the grapes will be (as the nutrients must be shared between less fruit per vine). More flavour in the grapes translates to wines of greater depth and intensity.

This in turn is why producers use the term “Vieille Vigne” on their labels – to emphasise that what’s in the bottle is produced from older vines. The only problem with this practice is that there is no official measure in place to say how old a vine has to be in order for it to be called an old vine or for the wine to bear the term Vieille Vigne on the bottle. This means that just about anyone can put Vielle Vigne on their label, no matter the age of the vines. You therefore need to know your producers or consult your merchant when in doubt.