In vineyard terms, when vines reach an age of 30 then the vineyard qualifies for the title “old vines”. This title has acquired a certain mystical quality over the years and involves an explanation.
David and Callum Powell from Powell & Son Wines from the Barossa Valley, Australia, recently visited Saigon and we debated this over a bowl of pho. Callum who trained under Auguste Clape at Cornas in the Rhone Valley, felt that: “vine age is very important to our wines. Almost all of our top wines are made from vineyards with over 120-year-old vines. However, vine age is just one part of the puzzle of making great wine. You also need good soil, climate, vine material, viticulture and winemaking… so it’s not the key element, but it most certainly helps.”
His father Dave, former founder and winemaker at Torbreck agreed saying “the final quality will still depend heavily on the skills of the resident winemaker and the site of the vineyard. There are a lot of very old vineyards that make average wine because they aren’t grown in the right place or treated properly.”
Dave would know as he made his name seeking out the hidden vineyards of the Barossa Valley and creating, in the words of Robert Parker: “some of the best wines in the world”. So why are some of the oldest vines here in South Australia close to Adelaide? “The vines in France would have been replanted after phylloxera (a sap-sucking insect related to aphids which feeds on vine roots and leaves) arrived about 100 years ago and most vines are now protected by grafting on top of phylloxera resistant American rootstocks,” Dave said. The Barossa is phylloxera free and therefore the vineyards date back to the second decade of settlement in the 1840’s. Consequently our Barossa vines aren’t grafted, so they will live longer than grafted vines planted in phylloxera areas, as eventually the graft will give, the vine will die and need to be replaced.”
So, Australians are grateful to the original settlers who brought these vines with them and thankful that phylloxera has not progressed into the state of South Australia. However, this is all academic if the wine from these old boys does not taste better. “Old vines tend to be less affected by severe weather conditions. It’s probably due to their deep roots and adaption to this climate over a long period of time. Generally old vines retain their acidity better, show higher concentration of flavours and tannin. Plus there is a bit of mystique which is easy to taste but hard to describe.” Dave added with a smile.
Recommended old vine wines to try from companies where both Dave Powell and myself have worked. Both are available from Annam Gourmet Market, 16-18 Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1, Tel: (28) 38229332.
2012 Rockford Basket Press Shiraz, VND745,000. Delicious Old Vine Shiraz made with a traditional basket press. Full-bodied, rich, spicy full of fruit.
2015 Yalumba Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling, VND775,000. Delicious crisp dry, mouth-filling Riesling with citric and stone fruit flavours. Elegant.
Rupert Dean worked in the wine industry and now lives in HCMC working for Regency International. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org