What is Old Vines Zinfandel?
We’ve been talking about Zinfandel a lot lately, like how Lodi, California is the Zinfandel capital of the world and that it’s basically America’s most popular grape. But there’s an interesting part about Zinfandel that is coming into the spotlight- Old Vines Zinfandel.
So what is it? Well, it’s pretty straightforward. Anything labeled “old vines” basically means that the vines from which the grapes in that bottle came from are particularly…old. Sure, that sounds mildly unappealing but when you think of it in terms of winemaking, older is better.
Grape vines can actually grow for 120 years so, by the end of that life, they’ve got deep roots and are producing more intensely flavored grapes. In the U.S., the term is mostly used in reference to Zinfandel, mostly because they are our oldest, most established grape.
Here’s the science behind it: Vines don’t really begin to produce until a few years after they’re planted. Around the 5th or 6th year, they’re primed for regular harvesting and will continue to regularly produce until about twenty or thirty years. This is when the growth declines and will continue to until about 50 years. After that point, the vines will produce fewer grapes but the flavor of the grapes that do grow is so much more intense.
This is especially true for Zinfandel in particular. Most of our other popular California wines like Chardonnay or Cabernet have a peak of 30-50 years which is why we don’t usually see the “old vine” label. With Zin, the lifespan is so much longer so the old age of the vine really holds some weight. It’s like you know the grapes in that old vine bottle worked harder to become your wine so it feels a little more special.
Legally, there is no condition or criteria for labeling a wine as “Old Vine” but wine producers take it extremely seriously, so if you see that label, you’ll know it’s at least 50 years old, if not older. Impressive, right?