By John St. Mark
If you pay attention to wine labels you may have noticed references to "old vines." Why should that matter? How long do grapevines live?
First, let’s be sure we’re talking about old vines and not about old wine. The year on the label refers to the year of the harvest (or, more accurately, to the year the grapes developed on the vine; in some exceptional cases, grapes are left on the vine into the winter and harvested after the New Year has begun.) That is important information because conditions that affect wine quality (the weather, mainly) vary from year to year. In addition, wine evolves over time so it is useful to know how old it is.
"Old vines," on the other hand, refers to the age of the plants that produced the grapes that were used to make the wine; their influence on wine quality is very different from that of time spent aging the wine. There is no generally agreed upon minimum age for a vine to be considered "old"; use of the term tends to be relative and can vary greatly depending on numerous considerations.