How Old Is “Old” For Old Vine Zinfandel?

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This question was originally posted on Facebook by Peter Fanucchi of Fanucchi Vineyards. Here's the exchange, so far.  What's your take?  Please add to the discussion by commenting below.

-->Peter Fanucchi:
So How old is Old?
Also dose It matter where the vine is planted?

-->Old Vine Zin:
Hi Peter. It's generally accepted that 50+ year old vines are considered "old" and 80+ are "ancient." Never heard anything about a vine's location determining "old vine" status.

-->Peter Fanucchi:
Actually from my experience there is no "generally accepted" definition! Back when I first put "Old Vine" on my bottle I was referring to the old field of vines that my family purchased in 1972. For a long time it was believed they were planted in 1906 but I have come to learn that they could have easily been already producing for 10 years before 1906 -interestingly, a winery, a few hundred feet away, was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake! So for my wine, "Old Vine," means over 100 years old. I have gone to ZAP tastings and tasted some very poor stuff labeled "Old Vine" when I asked one proprietor how old is old he told me about / almost 20 (so 16?)!

Peter Fanucchi asks, "How old is 'old' for Old Vine Zin?"

...But growing conditions are equally important for a great Zinfandel! at our site we have a shallow light sandy loam and are still dry farmed so growth & production is very limited, the fruit is very intense, and the vines need a lot of care to just to survive the dry season. Two miles away the elevation drops 30 feet, the soil becomes a bottomless black clay and the water table is always within reach of the vine roots so the vines are huge, vigorous, produce a heavy crop and there is a Zinfandel Vineyard about the same age as ours... Lets' just say the fruit & resulting wine are not of similar quality. I have considered discontinuing the term because it has been so abused!

-->Old Vine Zin:
Peter, I definitely agree with you regarding the overuse of the term "Old Vine" and even "Ancient Vine." I've seen that on many labels, only to read the back label (small print) to discover the wine is merely "inspired" by old vines, or "contains a percentage of old vine juice." Yeah, like .001%, I assume.

In Australia, they have the Barossa Old Vine Charter. It breaks down the designations this way:

Old Vine: equal or greater than 35 years of age
Survivor Vine: equal or greater than 70 years of age
Centurion Vine: equal or greater than 100 years of age
Ancestor Vine: equal or greater than 125 years of age

Here in the USA, Joel Peterson recommends vines be classified this way:

Young: 0 to 10 years
Middle: 10 to 50 years
Old: 50 to 80 years
Ancient: over 80 years

I would like an official designation in order to protect the term "old vine" from being too watered-down (pun intended). You guys have certainly gone the extra mile in the past by splashing "Planted in 1906" across the top-left corner of your front-label.

My simple take on the issue is to set "old" at 50 years and "ancient" at 80. Then adopt the same requirements used to define a varietal in the USA: 75% of the juice must be from that grape. As a result, I could pick up a bottle of "Old Vine Zin" and I would know (trust, hope, fingers-crossed) that 75% of the juice was from Zinfandel vines 50 years or older.

But that's just my take -- I'm in North Carolina and you've got Zin vine splinters in your hands. What do you think, Peter?

Article by Chris Allen

Chris has written 13 articles for us at Old Vine Zin ~ Your Guide To The Zinfandel Lifestyle

Twitter: @oldvinezin | Facebook

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Peter Fanucchi February 15, 2011 at 10:48 am

I believe it depends on how it is done.
A few years ago when I was on the Russian River Valley Wine Growers board of directors I took on a project to I identify terms that we believed needed to be defined. I took identified 12 terms to start with. For Old vines I took into account many factors and their many more than you might think! The Idea was that if you used our special logo from our Organization you had to meet certain standards and abide by the definitions if you used them. …. This concept is the way to go as it would be far simpler to do, bring higher standards, and require no government involvement. One Board member had what was the oldest Chardonnay block in the Russian River Valley (about 23 at the time, the same as our Trousseau Gris which is mature but I wouldn’t put it in the same class as the Zin). He was against such restrictions on the term (a few years later they pulled out that block of Chardonnay).
…. My project never saw the light of day but the best thing that can be done bring up standards and variety would be Abolish the Federal and State government Agencies and their bureaucratic medalling / “regulating” Wine! Immediately wine would become like any other product and for example if it was labeled “Zinfandel” anything less than 100% would have to be accounted for on the label! Also small guys (1000?) like me would be free to sell directly to restaurants, wine shops, and consumers over 21 in every state without giving a 50% cut to some state distributor and getting “registered” with multiple agencies in each state!

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