Introducing the Old Vine Registry

With great pride and excitement, I’d like to announce the launch of the Old Vine Registry, the world’s largest and most authoritative database of old-vine vineyards around the globe.

For the past year, and in particular the last three months, I have been serving as product manager, UX designer, and data czar for the Old Vine Registry, to take it on a journey from being an unwieldy spreadsheet to a database-driven web application that is accessible to the public.

Yesterday, with a modicum of fanfare, we launched the site with a webinar hosted by Jancis Robinson, Sarah Abbott MW, Rosa Kruger, Tamlyn Currin, and myself. If you missed it, you can view the webinar here.

Over the last 15 months or so, I’ve been working very hard as a volunteer to bring this project to fruition because I believe in the cause it represents. Namely, championing old-vine vineyards.

The Value of Old Vines

Old vineyards are biological and cultural treasures that must be celebrated, cherished, and conserved. The world’s old-vine vineyards are storehouses of precious genetic information—catalogs of DNA that has managed to survive and thrive in often the harshest conditions of a changing climate.

Old vines frequently (at least in competent hands) make more complex, dynamic wines that are more finely balanced than those made from younger vines. The oldest vineyards in the world have long outlived the people who planted them, yet they remain an enduring testament to the people, times, and cultures that put them in the ground. They are a testament we can not only see but experience viscerally as we quite literally taste the intention that made them what they are. 

In addition to making beautiful wines that speak of forgotten times, old vineyards are beautiful. Though vine plots can take many forms, the oldest vineyards usually have a majestic, sculptural quality that is unmatched by younger, more orderly plantings.

Old-vine Grenache Noir at Domaine de la Solitude in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Endangered Treasures

Despite these exceptional qualities, old vineyards are endangered in a world where the people who own them often depend upon them to make a living. As vines get older, their productivity drops, and they can become afflicted with various maladies, further reducing their yields.

For winegrowers seeking the highest quality output from their vines, the smaller quantity of fruit produced by old vines doesn’t often pose a problem. But for a farmer, big or small, whose primary income depends on the quantity of harvest, this drop in productivity can have seriously negative consequences.

This is why, on average, grapevines around the world are ripped out and replanted every 35 years.

Vineyards that have been left to grow and thrive beyond that 35-year mark can officially be considered old. And like our own elders, they deserve respect. But more than that, they need to be supported financially. And the way to do that is simply to buy the wines that are made from these old vines, and perhaps even pay a premium for that privilege.

All of which brings me to the premise behind the Old Vine Registry.

A Registry and a Gateway 

Given the threatened nature of old-vine vineyards, great value exists in simply keeping track of them all, which is the first premise of the Old Vine Registry. So far we have around 2200 vineyards in the database from 29 different countries.

But the real magic of the registry is not only providing interested parties with details about each vineyard, but also a way to find the wines made from each vineyard.

I say magic, but really it’s quite simple to launch a search for a vineyard name on Wine-Searcher.Com. Yet this simplicity allows the closing of a critical loop in the evangelization of old-vine vineyards. We can talk all we want about the virtues of old vineyards, we can encourage farmers to care for or even rehabilitate old vineyards. But none of that matters if the people making wine from these incredible sites can’t sell their wines.

There’s a lot more to be done to improve the commercialization of old vines, and only so much that a simple reference database like the OVR can do, but it is a small crucial step in the right direction.

A Grassroots, Crowd-Sourced Project

The Old Vine Registry began about 10 years ago when Jancis Robinson and Tamlyn Currin decided to start a spreadsheet keeping track of the old vineyards that they knew about and came across in their wide-ranging tasting and traveling. They made this spreadsheet available for download by anyone, and encouraged their readers and members of the wine industry to contribute data. Eventually the spreadsheet grew to nearly 1800 records, thanks in part to the assistance of Benjamin Roelfs, a dutch wine writer.

It was at this point that Jancis and Tamlyn realized that if this list of vineyards was really going to be helpful to anyone, it needed to stop being a spreadsheet and become something more.

They put out a public call for assistance, and I thought, “Hey, I could help with that.”

And here we are 15 months later, having secured a generous grant from Jackson Family Wines to help us pay someone to build the thing. I wrote the requirements and technical specifications, created a set of wireframes, bribed a designer friend of mine with wine, and found some wine-inclined developers in South Africa willing to take on the project.

Along the way I’ve spent far more hours than I care to admit cleaning up the vineyard data, as well as trying to fill in some holes in the data that were obvious to me. But there is so much more to do.

Just the Beginning

The Old Vine Registry is licensed under a Creative Commons license and always will be. We have built it to be a fully crowd-sourced public resource. Anyone can request a copy of the data in the repository at any time. But more importantly, anyone can contribute data on vineyards to help us make this repository bigger and better. We have a form to easily submit vineyard data for inclusion.

And we definitely need help. While we’ve assembled an impressive list of vineyards thus far, we have massive deficiencies of data in many areas. It’s embarrassing to say, but we have only five vineyards in Châteauneuf-du-Pape listed! The Rhône as a whole is massively underrepresented, as are Campania, Sicily, the Loire, the Languedoc, and Greece to name just a few places that are positively rife with older vineyards. We have zero vineyards from New Zealand, zero from Rioja, and zero from Switzerland!

Even for many of the vineyards we have in the registry, we’re missing crucial information, such as the size of the planting, and clarification on whether the vineyard is own-rooted or not.

All of which is to say, please help us. If you are associated with a regional wine organization that has access to vineyard data for your region, please consider giving us that data so your members can be represented in the Registry. If you are an importer or retailer, make sure your client’s vineyards are accurately and completely represented in the registry. Vineyard owners, tell us what we need to know about your plantings! And even if you’re just a wine consumer or researcher poking around in the registry for fun, help us out by pointing out errors or submitting information that we don’t have.

We hope this site can be a resource both “by and for” the global wine community, but for that to be true, everyone needs to pitch in to make it great.

Thank you to the countless people who have contributed information and time to this effort thus far, and thank you to all of you who find something useful to do with this little thing we built. Tell us how you think it can be better. As you can imagine, I already have a long list of improvements I want to make to this Minimum Viable Product.

But we took the first and most important step for any product: getting something out in the world for people to use. So go use it.

Long live the old vines!