There are many things that are widely acknowledged to get better with age: wine, teenagers, Jennifer Aniston. But a post on the way wine ages would need to span multiple weeks, and I’ve already surpassed my quota of Jennifer Aniston-related content here at the office, so I needed to get creative. And we all know that when Steve gets creative, you gain a new piece of wildly exciting cocktail party trivia! So sit back, relax, grab yourself a gently decanted heritage porkchop, and prepare to delve into the wild and exciting world of Vine Age!
Now it is a widely accepted truth that vines produce better wine as they age. Again, this is simply something that you’re supposed to nod knowingly at while you earnestly sniff that expensive, arbitrarily named “Old Vine Shiraz” (protip: like the word “Reserve”, there is nothing governing the use of the term “Old Vine”).
But why? Why is it that as a plant ages, its fruit somehow becomes “better?” The two answers that I have encountered seem to run counter to one another, so let me know what you think.
The first reason is said to be that the root network is constantly growing deeper and deeper. This makes sense early on in the life of the vine, especially in drier regions in Europe that don’t allow irrigation (I’m looking at you, Spain). While the vine is young, its roots are confined to dry, shallow soil that is devoid of any inherent juicy goodness. As it ages, its roots can reach as far as 20 feet down in the quest for delicious moisture, which goes a long way towards establishing the health of the vine, bringing it into maturity.
The other reason might seem less intuitive to some, but makes a lot more sense if you’re in the business of growing grapes. Once a vine hits 20+ years old it acts surprisingly similar to a human who has passed his midlife. Its strength begins to wain, old injuries affect it more and more, and it starts turning to fertilizers and cheap rootstock to get its kicks (though that last part is contested by the less imaginative among us).
As a vine’s vigor fades, so too does its fruit production or yield. This is where we start talking business. Anybody in the Pre-Wine business knows that low yields, and stressed vines make for good juice. So what we’re actually doing is taking advantage of the vine’s slow march towards the grave and the adverse effects it has on production to create grapes with more concentrated flavor. “Sure, Grandpa’s memory is starting to go, but the thoughts he does manage to scrape together make fantastic tweets.”
Now that we’ve established that nice little fact, I would like to tell you an anecdote: At the famous 1976 blind tasting in Paris, an upstart winery by the name of Stag’s Leap Cellars from the American state of Californ-i-a put a bottle of it’s 1973 Cab against some of the most prolific chateaus in Bordeaux and won. That wine had been made from the first harvest of three-year-old vines. What can we take away from this? Age is just a number, baby. Jennifer, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.