Watch Robert and Brian explain the Old Vine Charter or read below.
Barossa will continue to explore sub-regionality for some time to come. It has been trying to lay down some standards for the region, and one area on which it has found agreement is a standard for classifying its old vines, launched last month under the banner 'The Barossa Old Vine Charter'. Under the Charter, vines 35 years of age or more, can be named Barossa Old Vines. Those over 70 will be Survivor Vines; 100 years will be Centurion Vines; 125 years Ancestor Vines - but there is much work still to be done before these terms begin to appear on labels. Rutherglen has requested permission to use the Charter and the Winemakers' Federation has suggested it is something the whole of Australia could consider. 'We'd like to see some sort of position that establishes old vines in a logical hierarchy around the world', says Yalumba's Brian Walsh. 'In the perception of serious wine drinkers, the Old World owns the integrity to old vineyards' suggests Yalumba proprietor Robert Hill-Smith. 'To take an Old Vine Charter to the world will cause a lot of people who take Australia for granted to think again. This charter is about integrity: about hoping the wines we put in front of people express the place and variety. It's a necessary evolution that signifies a growing up of Australia'.
Tyson Stelzer, Decanter (UK), August 2009
"After thinking about and discussing this with Brian Walsh, Yalumba Director of Wine, for the last 10 years, we have decided to establish an Old Vine Charter to help nail our position and hopefully promote discussion and debate on the logic of the said charter. Also, it is an opportunity to celebrate the intrinsic merit of old vines and hopefully encourage regions to start a register of vine planting by vineyard and variety for those sufficiently interested.
Presently in Australia there is no definition in our wine law to prescribe what constitutes an 'old vine', leaving it open to individual interpretation (not necessarily a bad thing) or to possible indiscriminate or misleading use - this would be a bad thing, and has bothered me.
It is important to establish from the outset that whilst vine age may often be used as an indicator of potential quality it is not a prerequisite, just as variety, region or maker does not, by themselves, create a superior wine.
There is however, a widely held view that vines take about 7-8-10 years to mature, typically defined as (a) having established complete root depth and (b) reasonable carbohydrate storage in roots and trunk. Both of these conditions providing some seasonal buffering to more effectively allow the vine to carry out the task of grape-ripening.
In some parts of the world wines made from vines less than 7 years of age do not qualify for inclusion in their given appellations.
As the exception that proves the rule, there have been examples of vignerons claiming exceptional wines made from vines in their first or second cropping year.
However, "seriously" Old Vines appear to have an advantage in their consistent ability to make wines of great structure, concentration and power - with minimal intervention. At least that’s our experience in the Barossa. The balance of the vine (vegetative growth in relation to fruit load), its naturally reduced cropping level and its ancient root system seem to hold the key. Add to this the noble appearance of these gnarled survivors in an age of rapid redundancy, and there seems good cause to celebrate.
Whilst at the start of the 21st century more than half of Australia's grapevines were less than 10 years old, Australia does possess vines planted in the 19th century, producing majestic wines of character and individuality. Although officially a member of the New World in wine terms, in Australia we are part of an ancient landmass as well as custodians to some of the oldest grapevines in the world, and not enough wine people around the world embrace this fact.
The Yalumba Old Vine Charter is dedicated to the recognition, preservation and promotion of these old vines, and we at Yalumba hope this Charter may play a small role in ensuring that in the unlikely event of another vine-pull scheme, it is not the oldest vines that are destroyed! – as was the case in the 1980's.
How old is old? This is the most difficult, subjective and possibly contentious part.
Although any self-respecting vitis vinifera may take umbrage, we have chosen a human timescale as our point of reference and modified it to suit our own ends in attempting to make it (almost) mathematically sound.
We have chosen 35 years as a measure of a generation and subsequently a unit of "age", adjusting in the 3rd phase with a 30 year increment to reach the 100 year milestone.
What will this mean?
For us this means from 2007 Vintage any wine from Yalumba that uses 'Old Vine' nomenclature, either on a front label, back label or in supporting documents or descriptions, will comply with the Yalumba Old Vine Charter. That in itself will not touch a lot of people, but it is our hope others will see merit in the system and either come on board or develop their own charter.
In a practical sense, for reasons of syntax, we may prefer to retain Old Vine, for example, as the descriptor on The Octavius Old Vine Barossa Shiraz, even though it fits more between Antique and Centenarian on our own scale. We will however, describe in accompanying wine notes or on our website the facts of vine age where a claim to "oldness" or age is made.
In an era of rapid change in technology, lifestyle and interest in the "new" and the "now", we hope that through this overdue initiative, recognition of our Australian viti-vini history, survival, heritage and provenance may be proclaimed and celebrated!
Robert Hill-Smith, Proprietor / Vigneron
Download The Yalumba Old Vine Charter