Tasting OldVines in Whites??

As I was drinking the Foxen OV CheninBlanc last night, it occurred to me that I have no idea what “old vines” tastes like in white wines.

In tasting OV reds (Zins/mixed blacks), like from Ridge/Carlisle/Bedrock/etc, over the yrs; I (think) I can often taste what I think to be an OV character in those wines…a sorta “dusty” character that I associate with OV’s. Could be I’m just fooling myself, though. In some Zins/mixed blacks that I know to be from OV, sometimes I cannot pick up much/any OV character, depending on how the wine was made. OV character in Pinot/Cab/Merlot/Syrah/Mourvedre?? Forget about that…can’t identify any OV character in those, not even ContraCosta Mataro. Perhaps my data base is simply not large enough for OV’s in those varieties.

So…for all those folks here-abouts w/ more experience in wine than me…can you identify or describe any unique character you pick up in tasting OV whites?? Surely MikeDildine has a definitive answer on this one?

Tom (throwing out today’s esoteric/thought-provoking question)

Great question, Tom!!

I am interested to see what answers/speculation is presented here…

Obviously the term “old vines” is relative, in that I’m pretty sure that there is no legal definition. And what is considered old for whites might be considerably younger than what is thought to be old for reds. My guess is that there are a lot less older vines for white varieties than there are for the reds. And when it comes to really old vines, say 80 years or older, if there are any whites that qualify, I’d really like to know. I’ve always associated intensity of fruit with old vines because of the reduced production. I would think this to be applicable to both reds and whites.

Could be I’m just fooling myself, though.


I used to sell a few from Spain that came from pre-phylloxera vines, so I suppose those would be considered old vines, although that’s not what they were called. Good wine. Tasting blind, which we did, while it was identifiable if you knew the wine or grape, it was not possible to state that this characteristic or that one came from the age of the vine.

And that makes perfect sense doesn’t it? After all, the old dead part of the vine isn’t carrying water and nutrients into the grapes. So while there’s a romance associated with the older vines, and perhaps they’ve survived because they were somehow stronger than others or more likely, just haven’t been turned into a parking lot, I can’t imagine what it would be that would come directly from the age of a vine. The people I know who’ve studied it haven’t found much to write about either.

Tom, you always toss me the hard questions! As you know, the universe of old-vine white vineyards is much smaller than for reds.

I can tell you that I drank an '07 Chalone Estate Chenin (my last bottle) two weeks ago in Tahoe that was perhaps the best white wine I’ve ever tasted. Last night I tasted a '17 Bedrock Gewürztraminer Alta Vista Vineyard (vines planted in the 40s) that I thought was stunning.

Unfortunately, my inventory of old vine whites is pretty limited at the moment, but let me know when you are out here next, and perhaps we can sip a few and ruminate.

I think that there are a lot of ‘assumptions’ about old vines and what they may add or impart into wines. I also think that there is some ‘wishful thinking’ or ‘hopeful thinking’ when it comes to this topic, and we all want to ‘believe’ that there is something ‘magical’ about old vines.

I think it is fair to say that the physiological ‘makeup’ of the vine changes over time, and some aspects of it may alter - the rate and type of phloem and xylem movements that occur, for instance - but it may be tough to ‘quantify’ how these appear in finished wines. And then there is that thing that I like to call ‘winemaker terroir’ that rears it’s ugly head when too much new oak is used or the grapes are picked too ripe (or too underripe).

I’d love it if Tegan or Mike O or Morgan were to head on here with some ‘scientific data’ if at all possible.


Tru dat, Michael…No legal definition of “old vines”. Just like no legal definition of “Reserve”.

I would say there have got to be some OV white vnyds around. The Chalone property was planted back in the…what??..'50’s.
The Chalone CheninBlanc '07, made from their original planting…a terrific white…would qualify. And there are plenty of OV whites in
vnyds like Pagani and such…but not enough vines to make a wine. Maybe some old GreyRiesling/Trousseau vnyds like Fanucchi?

I would agree that OV reds are often associated with intensity of fruit. But not necessarily. Some of the Ridge OV Zins are not necessarily
intense. Certainly not the Bedrock Esola. Yet I still get (I think) some OV character in those wines.
And you get plenty of intensity of fruit in Meomi PinotNoir…which has never seen an OV in its life.

Thanks for your thoughts, Michael.


Damn…scooped again by MikeDildine!! [swearing.gif]

That Chalone '07 CB is a fantastic wine. Think DarrellCorti still has it in stock.
Chalone used to make an OV FrenchColombard from the CyrilSaviez/NapaVlly vnyd, but that vnyd has been pulled I believe. Probably for Merlot!! [snort.gif]

Yup…that’s what all us old folks down at the nursing home do all day long!! [snort.gif] And talk about our aches & pains!!

Well, Larry…probably no “scientific” data…just “anecdotal” data from those w/ more experience than you or I.
Part of the “magic” of OV wines is when walking those vnyds and seeing those gnarly old vines, you’d like to hear the stories they have to tell.
But the “magic” of OV’s may only be, in part, “wishful thinking”. Would love it if those guys would chime in here. But they have real lives to
live and hanging out on WB’s is not part of those real lives.

I’m not certain there is a real difference in “old vines” versus newer vines other than evocative thoughts and romance.

I do wonder though if there is a difference between young vines versus mature vines. I’ve seen wineries do bottles from juvenile or young vines separately. I also believe the fruit from most vines is not even used for the first couple years of life. I wonder if there is some time for some or all varieties when after they are planted they do not give the quality of fruit that a more mature vine will.

I’ve thought maybe some of the historically older vineyards might give a different quality of fruit due to things like older or more mixed clonal selections. Plus things like planting space and trellising that can lend a difference. Older canopy management leading to different growth patterns, etc.

I suppose the first step in determining what makes wines from old white grape variety vineyards is to compile a roster of the sites which are generally considered to be “old”.

Here are a few I could find via a quick Google search:

• “Alfaro Family Vineyards: ‘Trout Gulch Vineyard’” (1980) - Chardonnay

“Alta Vista Vineyard” (1930s) - Gewürtztraminer

“Bacigalupi Vineyard” (1950s) - Chardonnay

“Betty Ann Vineyard” (1900s) - French Colombard

“Bridgehead Vineyard” (~1935) - Palomino, Muscat

“Carlisle Vineyard” (1927) - Albillo Mayor, Clairette Blanche, Grec Rouge, Mondeuse

“Casa Santinamaria” (1890s) - Muscadelle

“Cat Canyon Vineyard” (1978) - Chenin Blanc

“Chalone Vineyard” (1919) - Chenin Blanc

“Chappellet Estate Vineyard” (>1960s) - Chenin Blanc

“Cole Ranch” (1950s) - Riesling

“Compagni Portis” (1954) - Burger, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Trousseau Gris, etc.

“Deaver Vineyard” - Muscat of Alexandria

“Evangelho Vineyard” (1890s) - Palomino

“Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard” (1906) - Trousseau Gris

“Gibson Ranch” (1910s) - Grenache Gris

“Hoffman Mountain Ranch/HMR Vineyard” (~1964) - Chardonnay

“Jackass Hill Vineyard” (1890) - Muscat

“La Boeuf Vineyard” (1974) - Chardonnay

“Mancini Ranch” (1922) - French Colombard, Muscadelle, Palomino

“Monte Rosso Vineyard” (~1886) - Semillon

• “Nelson Family Vineyard” - Riesling

“Nervo Ranch Vineyard” - Burger, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon

• “Nichelini Family Vineyards”: ‘Rose Block’”] (1946) - Muscadelle/Sauvignon Vert

“Oakville Farmhouse Vineyard” (~1930s) - Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Semillon

“Old Hill Vineyard” (~1885) - French Colombard, Chasselas, Clairette Blanc, Muscat

“Pagani Ranch” (1880s) - Muscadelle

“Papera Ranch” (1934) - Trousseau Gris

“Peter Martin Ray Vineyard” (1982) - Chardonnay

“Raffaini Family Vineyard” - Chasselas

“Rochioli Vineyard” (1959) - Sauvignon Blanc

“Saitone Ranch” (1890s) - Muscadelle, Palomino

“Shell Creek Vineyard” (1971) - Chenin Blanc

“Stony Hill Vineyard” - Riesling

"To Kalon Vineyard: ‘I-Block’" (1945, Stelling property) - Sauvignon Blanc

“Two Acres” (1910s) - Helena

“Vista Verde Vineyard” - Chenin Blanc

“Wes Cameron Vineyard” - Colombard

“Wirz Vineyard” (1902 & 1964) - Riesling (1964), Orange Muscat (1902)

• “Wright’s Vineyard” - French Colombard

• "Yamakawa Vineyards: ‘Shot-Wente Block’” (1968) - Chardonnay

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Great list Drew! That Monte Rosso Semillon is awfully tasty and it’s rumored that good Zinfandel is also sourced from that vineyard. For those interested, I just received this email message from HVS Sargent-at-Arms Emily Rasmussen (shameless non-profit plug):

June 8th, 2019> : Save the Date for our 2019 Vineyard Tour & Dinner! After a year off, we’re excited to announce the return of this beloved HVS event. The 2019 Vineyard Tour and Dinner will take place high above Sonoma Valley at the beautiful Monte Rosso Vineyard on Saturday, June 8th. Tickets will go on sale in mid-January. We hope to see you there!


Do you have any experience with any of the more recent vintages of the Chalone Chenin Blanc? If so, how do you think that they compare with the 2007?

Thanks, Paul

Funny the To Kalon I Block wasn’t included on that list. Anyone know how old Chappellet’s Chenin Blanc vines are?

No. And I don’t see how you can ‘taste’ them in reds either. Perhaps we should cross-link this topic with the “I have a story to sell you” thread? cheesehead

Paul, no I don’t. Their website does feature a ‘16, however, but I’m not certain that the old vines are still in the ground. I’m going to look into this.

I think Darrell told me that ‘07 was the last crop from that original block, but not sure about that.

Just based on observation and mainly on Portuguese white wines. There are quite a few old white vineyards in the Douro and Dao. The old vine wines seem to have less overt varietal characteristics but more depth and complexity to them. I love old vine Encruzado from the Dao. Very much like old style white Burgundy.

They ripped up the old Chenin so they are not very old at all.

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