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Defining Old Vines

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Posted: Monday, November 22, 2010 2:45 pm | Updated: 2:56 pm, Mon Nov 22, 2010.

I've never quite understood the age at which someone is officially "old." Seemed when I was a kid, even a 20-year-old was old. Nowadays - barely hanging onto my 40's - most growers call me young. Go figure.

Finally, the branch of the Federal Government that regulates the wine industry - the TTB - is considering taking a crack at figuring out a legal definition for "old vines."

With a January 3, 2011 deadline, even you, the everyday-Zin drinker may leave your opinion at Regulations.gov for docket ID TTB-2010-0006.

Tim Spencer of St.Amant Winery used to say, "They've got to be older than me if it's going to be called old vine." Meaning Tim might have been fine with 75 years.

Along with The Gray Market Report, I'd arbitrarily vote for 50 years as the cut off.

The problem is how to enforce it?

Even Lodi's oldest Zin, the Royal Tee Vineyard, planted in 1889 at Jessie's Grove, has some youngsters replacing craggily vines that keeled-over and gave up the ghost. Would those young vines have to be excluded?

How do you prove your vineyard really was planted before the cold war?

Some growers have kept shoebox records of generations-old invoices for vines bought from nurseries. Others hopped the fence, snipped off some cuttings and stuck them in the ground with no paperwork.

Maybe an old vine wine doesn't have to be 100% old? You'd probably have to allow for at least 5% of other wine to be blended in to replace the "angels' share" lost through aging barrels, or maybe even 15%, since many of Lodi's most popular Zins couldn't hold their old vine title if a splash of young Petite Sirah weren't allowed.

While we're at it, how about defining "ancient vines" as 100 years old?

What do you think the cut-off should be?

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  • roy bitz posted at 9:26 pm on Fri, Dec 10, 2010.

    roy bitz Posts: 503

    The proof is in the quality of the wine---a highly subjective measure. Some believe white zin is wonderful.
    The first time I heard of "old vine zin" I bought into the idea that the vine might be more stressed due to it's age and that stressed vines produce less fruit--smaller fruit but better fruit. Now I'm not so sure.
    Now we have "ancient zin". Where is the line between old and ancient. I love marketing strategies but please----give me a break.
    I have spent a life time in the food business and I have hear a million product claims.
    Don't be swayed by marketing claims. Decide what you like and go for it. It is not necessary to pay for old zin or ancient zin just because it's old or ancient. Drink what you like---forget the hype.

  • Ted Lauchland posted at 10:08 am on Thu, Dec 2, 2010.

    Ted Lauchland Posts: 261

    Old Vine Zin , I'm sure you could put a number to it if you really wanted to. Plant test wise the differences between my particular ten year old zins and my fifty year old zins in petiol samples are the older vine's calcium level was higher than the younger vine. Both vineyards treated the same but irrigated by different wells. Make your own conclusions - If the flavors are there what is the difference. If it sold if off the shelf and proved to be consistant enough for the consumer to come back again then it did the same thing as planting roses at the end of your vineyard rows - it got their attention

  • posted at 7:40 pm on Wed, Nov 24, 2010.


    The nice thing about the TTB is that, on new regulations, they take their lead from comments from the industry and general public. If no one has strong opinions about the cut-off or enforcement of "old vines," they won't enter a change in the code of regulations. If enough people come foreward with persuasive, supported arguments, then they will render an opinion. I've found them to be very helpful and very good at protecting the public's tax revenue and right to accuracy on wine labels.

  • posted at 10:06 am on Wed, Nov 24, 2010.


    The government shouldn't be allow to set a definition of "old" on anything. Case in point the ever sliding scale of the Social Security benefits age.


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