Yalumba defines old vines
Australian wine producer Yalumba has established an Old Vine Charter, an initiative designed to help avoid confusion about the much-used term.
Yalumba proprietor and vigneron Robert Hill Smith said, ‘Presently in Australia there is no definition in our wine law to prescribe what constitutes an “old vine”, leaving it open to individual interpretation or to possible indiscriminate or misleading use.’ So from the 2007 vintage any wine from Yalumba that says Old Vine on the label must be 35 years old or more, an Antique Vine at least 70 years old and a Centenarian Vine at least 100 years old. Although at the moment this is just a company initiative, Robert hopes that in time others will see merit in the system and either come on board or develop their own charter.
In the meantime, however, the term old vine generally remains in the group of descriptors used on wine bottles that mean very little to the consumer. For a start, with no industry definition, producers can label wines as old vine that are comparatively young, hoping to attach to them some suggestion of quality. But, as Robert explained, ‘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.’
A worldwide charter would at least give some clarification for what an old vine is, but some terms will remain a mystery to the consumer and for a good reason – they actually don’t mean anything. Winemaker’s Selection and Cellar Selection, for instance, are nothing more than ways to market a particular wine. Reserve on a bottle is particularly misleading. Unlike the Spanish Reserva and Italian Riserva, both of which indicate that the wine has had extended ageing, the English Reserve is just a term used by wine producers for various bottlings and has few controls. Some wineries release bottlings under all manner of names incorporating the word: Proprietor’s Reserve, Estate Reserve, Reserve Selection and so on.
At least Superieur is a defined term in the French Appellation Controle system, although for consumers not in the know it does sound like it is implying something of better quality. In fact, wines are labelled this because of their higher alcoholic strength. It’s the same with the Italian term Superiore, though these wines have to have a longer period of ageing as well.
It seems that it spite of the EU wine reform, which hopes to make wine labels easier for the consumer to understand, we still need to read between the lines and take a few of the terms on our bottles with a pinch of salt.