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Defining Old Vines

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Posted: Monday, November 22, 2010 2:45 pm

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 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?