Scott Harvey and Jana Wines produce a number of “Old Vine” wines from our 143 year old “Vineyard 1869” Zinfandel to my Grandfather’s 88 year old “J&S Reserve Old Vine” Zinfandel. We even produce “Jana Old Vine” Rieslings from both Napa Valley and Mendocino County. What makes wine from an old vine vineyard different than that from a young vineyard?
The difference is the root depth. An “Old Vine” Zinfandel vine will have roots that go as deep at 25 feet. A younger vineyard will have roots about 6 feet deep. Deep roots do two things.
1. It just makes the vine smarter. In a wet year the shallow roots of a young vine will absorb lots of water producing large crops of water berries producing thin wine. The heavy rain water won’t make it all the way down to the deeper roots in an old vine vineyard and the vine will produce a more even ripening and mature crop. In a dry year the younger vines won’t get enough nourishing moisture and the crop may not ripen at all, while the deep roots of an old vine vineyard can tap into deeper moisture supplies. An old vine vineyard seems to be more grown up or smarter, not over producing in a wet year and still producing an even crop in a dry year.
2. Each soil type layer the old vine roots go through as they go down 25 feet will add another dimension to the wine. A young vine with its roots only six feet deep will have only gone through one soil type. The old vine roots will have gone through many soil types. I always say a young vineyard is more mono-dimensional while the old vine vineyard is more multi-dimensional.
A lot people think that old vine denotes more extractive wine. Extraction in a wine depends more on when the grapes are picked, i.e. over ripe as to just mature. If the grapes are picked over ripe, you lose the ability for the wine to talk to you and any benefit from the deep roots. When not picked over ripe, I like to think of old vine vineyards producing a first growth quality wine that ages into a wine of multi dimensions and subtleties.