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Grenache and Pinot: Old Vines Wines That Rock

Earlier this week, Michael Twelftree threw some cold water on the often overheated adoration for all things old vines. But, he hastens to add, that doesn’t mean there aren’t cases where the myth has validity!

While I’m generally skeptical of old vines, there are a couple of varietals that I do think are better from older vines: Grenache and Pinot Noir.

Grenache is very robust and can take a great amount of heat without ever falling over or looking stressed. At Two Hands we do notice a lovely sap and mouthfeel from older Grenache, but as I’ve said before, we have very little to work with in regards to crop variation from year to year. We are lucky to have 40- and 90-year-old Grenache at Greenock and a 60-year-old patch at Ebenezer.

Sadly, Australia does not have a lot of old vine Pinot Noir planted, but I do taste an extra dimension from old vine fruit in Burgundy. Of course, this might say more about the effects of planting density; in Burgundy you find 4,000 to 7,000 vines per hectare, whereas in Australia we normally have more like 1,500 to 2,000.

One year, we made McLaren Vale Shiraz from a 102-year-old vineyard. The resulting wine was very good, but no better than the 30-year-old patch we took some 300 metres away. And in the Barossa we sourced a 67-year-old vineyard at Gomersol. Both made very good wines but I was still underwhelmed with the amount of fruit in their structure. Old vines as a term and an easy marketing point will always be with us, and in a historic sense I do love the fact that these old vineyards remain. To stand in a vineyard that your grandfather could have stood in as a young boy, it’s all pretty amazing. I just wish the fruit they produce was that much better.

—MT

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