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Does Vine Age Matter?

Vielles Vignes. Alte Reben. Viñas Viejas. Vinhas Velhas. These terms appear, if not frequently, then with some regularity on wine labels throughout the world. Here in California we're treated to "old vines," "ancient vines," and sometimes even "century vines," thanks to some particularly well-preserved specimens throughout the state.

Winegrowers sometimes make a big deal out of old vines, particularly when they are in possession of them.

But do they really matter? And if so, how?

These were two of many questions that I set out to answer with a panel of winemakers and their wines last week at the In Pursuit of Balance tasting here in San Francisco. The seminar was streamed live, and has now been archived, so I thought I'd share it with you. The conversation was excellent and the wines outstanding.

From left to right in the video, my panelists were: Steve Matthiasson Winemaker, Matthiasson; Michael McNeill, winemaker at Hanzell; Adam Tolmach, winemaker at Ojai Cellars; and Pax Mahle, winemaker at Wind Gap.

The wines we tasted, in order were:

2012 Wind Gap "Woodruff Vineyard" Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains (old vines)
2012 Wind Gap "James Berry Vineyard" Chardonnay, Paso Robles (old vines)
2011 Matthiasson "Michael Mara" Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast (old vines)
2011 Matthiasson "Linda Vista" Chardonnay, Napa Valley (young vines)
2012 Ojai "Bien Nacido Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley (planted 2002)
2012 Ojai "Bien Nacido Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley (planted 1973)
2012 Hanzell "de Brye Vineyard, East Slope - barrel sample" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley (1999 planting)
2012 Hanzell "de Brye Vineyard - barrel sample" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley (1976 planting)
2012 Hanzell "Ambassador's 1953 Vineyard - barrel sample" Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley (1953 planting - oldest Pinot Noir vineyard in America)

Unfortunately, because I was busy running the seminar, I didn't get a chance to make notes on these wines to share with you.

Enjoy the conversation.


Video streaming by Ustream


Video streaming by Ustream

So, what do you think. What are your experiences with old vines. How would you answer the question as to whether, all other things being equal, do older vines make better wines than young vines?

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud