Old Vines That Still Make Great Wine

A celebration of distinct old-vine vineyards from the New World and Old World, plus the magnificent wines they yield.
The old vines of To Kalon Vineyard / Photo courtesy of Robert Mondavi Winery

There’s a lot of buzz about the high-quality wines made from old vines. Whether or not you’re a believer, old-vine vineyards represent some of the most dramatic and authentic representations of wine history, tradition and appreciation.

From roots that are intricately twisted and gnarled due to decades of weathered life to sky-high vines, these beauties offer archival perspective and pure expressions of the terroir they’ve become remarkably synergized with.

Take a tour of some of the world’s most distinct old-vine vineyards, including sites where vines should have never survived and some of the first plantings in now-widely explored regions. Visually impactful and capable of yielding special wines of character, behold the beauty that old vines offer.

Close up image of a brown and woody vine, lush vines in the background
Turkey Flat’s The Ancestor / Photo by Andy Ellis

The Ancestor

Barossa, South Australia
Planted in 1847

Grape Planted: Predominantly Shiraz
Wine Produced: Turkey Flat The Ancestor

Owned by the Schulz family since the 1870s and referred to affectionately as “oldy moldy” in the Turkey Flat cellar, this is the second-oldest vineyard Down Under and among the oldest in the world. Still on its original rootstock, the three acres of gnarly, dry-farmed vines stretch their roots down at least 16 feet into the sunbaked alluvial soil. The vineyard yields just two barrels worth of wine, and the single-site bottling is produced only in exceptional vintages. A portion of the fruit also goes into Turkey Flat’s non-vineyard-designate Shiraz. —Christina Pickard

Very large vine being supported by a large stake, lush vines behind
Fiano vines in La Vigna di Lapio / Photo by Matteo Piazza

La Vigna di Lapio

Campania, Italy
Planted in mid-1800s

Grape Planted: Predominantly Fiano
Wines Produced: Future Fiano bottlings from Feudi di San Gregorio

Owned by a local farming family, Feudi di San Gregorio has leased the vineyard since 2010. The vines are on original rootstocks, and the enormous plants stand up to eight feet tall. “Yields are too low to harvest, but we gather the buds to produce new vines,” says renowned agronomist Pierpaolo Sirch, who is the agronomic and cellar operations supervisor for Feudi di San Gregorio. The next generation of plants is extremely young, but it represents the future of Fiano. —Kerin O’Keefe

Lush vines rolled around themselve, layying on stony ground
Basket-trained vines at Argyros Estate Vineyards / Photo by Christos Dragos

Argyros Estate Vineyards

Santorini, Greece
Planted in early 1800s

Grape Planted: Assyrtiko
Wines Produced: Argyros Estate Assyrtiko, 12- and 20-year barrel-aged Argyros Estate Vinsanto

Prior to 1903, when the cultivation of the Argyros family’s vines became commercial, these parcels were used to produce sacramental wine for the Catholic church. According to Matthew Argyros, the family’s fourth-generation winemaker and eighth-generation farmer, the roots of some of the Episkopi vines could be nearly 300 years old. The unique pruning methods used in Santorini allow the actual body of the plants to be renewed while maintaining the same root system. —Susan Kostrzewa

Black and white photo of man sitting on a huge vine in front of a rocky cave-like hill
The Natenadze Vineyards in Georgia / Photo courtesy of Giorgi Natenadze

Natenadze Vineyards

Samtskhe-Javakheti (Meskheti), Georgia
Planted starting around 1600

Grapes Planted: Kapnis Kurdzeni, Meshkuri, Mtsvane, Saperavi, Tamaris Vazi and other indigenous varieties
Wines Produced: Natenadze Wine Cellar Meshkuri Red, Natenadze Wine Cellar Meshkuri Mtsvane

Giorgi Natenadze’s vines in southern Georgia are true wild vines, many of which climb up trees and have survived invading armies. Covering approximately 2,476 square miles, the vines take two months to harvest. In conjunction with the Scientific Research Center at the Ministry of Agriculture in Georgia, Natenadze has been credited with the discovery and identification of 24 grape varieties, though 16 others cultivated here remain unidentified. —Mike DeSimone

Close up of bottom of old gnarly vine, held up by a large stake, lush canopy above
Vines in Vigne de Sarragachies / Photo courtesy of Plaimont Producteurs

Vigne de Sarragachies

Saint-Mont, Southwest France
Planted circa 1812

Grapes Planted: Aouillat, Claverie, Courbu Blanc, Graisse, Muscadelle, Pinenc, Tannat, Tardif and other varieties (21 in all)
Wines Produced: Plaimont Producteurs Saint-Mont

Typical of the time, vines were planted in this sandy site at random and propagated by layering. The current owners, the Pédebernade family, bought the half-acre parcel more than 100 years ago. The vineyard is managed and preserved by Plaimont Producteurs, which also worked to get the site classified as a French Historic Monument in 2012, a first for any vineyard. Red wines have been produced from Tardif, and one from Pinenc. Experimental quantities have been made from cuttings grown in the conservatory of Plaimont Producteurs under the watchful eye of Nadine Raymond, Plaimont’s head of research and development. —Roger Voss

Row of lush grapevines planted in deep orange-brown bare ground, large bare hill behind
Enz Vineyard in Lime Kiln Valley / Photo by Alex Krause

Enz Vineyard

Lime Kiln Valley, California
First planted in 1890s

Grapes Planted: Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Pfeffer, Carignan, Mission, Mourvèdre, Orange Muscat, Palomino, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel
Wines Produced: Vineyard-designate bottlings from Birichino, Dirty and Rowdy Family Wines, I. Brand & Family, Nonesuch, Penville Projects and Vöcal Vineyards; sourced by multiple other brands

Adjacent to a limestone quarry and kilns that powered the development of San Jose and San Francisco, the San Benito County vineyard was planted to satisfy the thirst of the kiln workers, whose tiny town was eventually abandoned. It was first planted to Orange Muscat, Zinfandel and Cabernet Pfeffer, though the latter appears to actually be a mixed block of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Noir, Gros Verdot/Mourtaou, Trousseau Noir and more. Starting in the 1920s, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, Mission, Mourvèdre and Palomino were added to the site. Then, in 1967, Bob and Susan Enz purchased the vineyard, and it’s now farmed by their son, Russell Enz, who grew up there. Sauvignon Blanc was planted in 1982. Everything is own- or vinifera-rooted and dry-farmed. —Matt Kettmann

Very large dormant vine closeup, others behind, large hill in the background
T Voetpad in Swartland / Photo by Jaco Engelbrecht

’T Voetpad

Swartland, South Africa
First planted in 1887

Grapes Planted: Chenin Blanc, Muscat d’Alexandrie, Palomino, Sémillon Blanc and Sémillon Gris
Wine Produced: Sadie Family Wines ’T Voetpad

’T Voetpad, which means “the footpath” in Dutch, is the oldest vineyard in South Africa. It’s an isolated site of about 3.5 acres on the northwest side of the Piquetberg Mountains. Five grape varieties are interplanted and grown on their own rootstocks without irrigation or herbicides. Eben Sadie, a Swartland winemaker and old-vine champion, produces a ’T Voetpad field-blend bottling from the vineyard. The varieties are picked and pressed together, then co-fermented in old wooden casks. The resulting wine is a tribute to South African terroir and winegrowing history: a pristine, focused, mineral wine full of energy and complexity. —Lauren Buzzeo

Two men amid staked vines on a steep hillside over a river
Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg in Mosel / Photo by Andreas Durst

Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg

Mosel, Germany
Planted in 1896

Grape Planted: Riesling
Wine Produced: Weingut Carl Loewen 1896 Erste Lage Alte Reben Riesling, Weingut Carl Loewen Maximin Herrenberg 1896 Alte Reben Erste Lage Riesling Trocken

Surprisingly, the first planting of this steep, 6.1-acre vineyard was documented. Planted on their own roots, these single-stake Riesling vines are ungrafted, and owner Karl Josef Loewen prays that phylloxera, a pest that can kill vines, doesn’t appear. Farmed sustainably without mineral fertilizers, the genetics have been preserved through massal selections, and cuttings are used to plant new vineyards. Weingut Carl Loewen makes two wines from this parcel each year. The 1896 Alte Reben Erste Lage Riesling is crafted in an ultra-traditional manner through the use of a basket press, spontaneous ferment and a large barrel, with the wine’s fermentation always stopping when it’s off-dry. The other, the Maximin Herrenberg 1896 Alte Reben Erste Lage Riesling Trocken, is a more modern version that uses a hydraulic press and ferments to dryness. —Anne Kreibehl MW

Lower part of dormant vine tied to a stake, over frosty ground
Winter vines in Ried Tabor / Photo courtesy of Weingut Forstreiter

Ried Tabor

Kremstal, Austria
Approximately 150 years old

Grape Planted: Grüner Veltliner
Wine Produced: Weingut Meinhard Forstreiter Tabor Reserve Grüner Veltliner

Meinhard Forstreiter has leased this tiny 0.35-acre parcel from its aristocratic owners for years. Located in a rather sandy vineyard right on the Danube, the vines were well-established when phylloxera hit in the late 19th century. These are Austria’s last remaining Grüner Veltliner vines that pre-date phylloxera, as their roots extend deeper than the bugs’ reach. Too small to be economically important despite its high-quality fruit, it was never grubbed up and fell into benign neglect until Forstreiter started to make an unusually rich and rounded single-vineyard wine. —A.K.

Lush terraced vineyards surrounding dark water
The steep slope of Vinha Maria Teresa / Photo by Vasco Maia Lopes

Vinha Maria Teresa

Douro, Portugal
At least 100 years old

Grapes Planted: More than 45 different varieties
Wines Produced: Quinta do Crasto Vinha Maria Teresa

Bought in 1918 by Constantino de Almeida, the 11.6-acre vineyard planted on stone-walled terraces is now run as part of Quinta do Crasto by Miguel and Tomás Roquette, the family’s fourth generation. It’s named after Almeida’s granddaughter, Maria Teresa. The vineyard’s low elevation, situated close to the Douro River, and the old vines mean production is limited. The single-vineyard wine is only produced in top years. Since 1998, the first year, it has been released 10 times. —R.V.

Very closeup of vine with moss growing on it
A vine in To Kalon / Photo courtesy of Robert Mondavi Winery

To Kalon I Block

Oakville, California
Planted in 1945

Grape Planted: Sauvignon Blanc
Wine Produced: Robert Mondavi Winery I Block Fumé Blanc

I Block is believed to be the oldest Sauvignon Blanc in the North America. Head-trained, the vines have never been irrigated, and their deep roots contribute to a flinty, mineral-driven wine different from other Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs. Robert Mondavi trademarked the name To Kalon in 1987, and the vineyard was first seen on Mondavi’s Fumé Blanc Reserve label in the 1986 vintage release. —Virginie Boone

Dormant vines staked and trained on wires, green grass beneath
Bethel Heights Estate Vineyards / Photo by Mike Reynolds

Bethel Heights Estate Vineyards

Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
First planted in 1977

Grapes Planted: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Wines Produced: All Bethel Heights Vineyard wines

The original 32 acres of vines planted at Bethel Heights Vineyard from 1977–1979 are among the last own-rooted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines in the Willamette Valley. The vineyard’s geologically complex hillside soils, steady aeolian winds and gnarled old vines create highly energized wines with firm backbones, depth of character and distinct personalities, as shown in 14 estate bottlings each year. Pinot Blanc was planted in 1992, and Pinot Gris was added to the estate vineyards two years after that. —Paul Gregutt

Bottom of vine, canopy changin colors at top
Vines at Manso de Velasco / Photo courtesy of Familia Torres

Manso de Velasco

Curicó Valley, Chile
Planted in 1900

Grape Planted: Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine Produced: Miguel Torres Manso de Velasco Cabernet Sauvignon

The vineyard and wine is a tribute to Chilean governor Manso de Velasco (1737–1744), who founded the town of Curicó in 1743 and ultimately became viceroy of Peru (1745–1761). That this 37-acre vineyard exists today is somewhat of a miracle. During the mid-20th century, thousands of acres of Chile’s old vines were uprooted and replaced with higher-yielding plants. The first vintage of Miguel Torres Manso de Velasco Cabernet Sauvignon was 1986, the same year that the Torres family acquired the property. According to its general manager, Miguel Torres Maczassek, the organic and dry-farmed vineyard functions as its own ecosystem. Many of the sizable holes in the trunks of the oldest vines have become nests for birds that protect the vineyard from disease and pests. —Michael Schachner

 

Published on February 25, 2019
Topics: Wine and Ratings


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