Since we were able to restart our wine tours here at Little Wold, it has been my pleasure to take 100’s of you around already. We always like to make time for a Q&A session and one of the questions I get asked is, how long will the vines last?
During my 20 years in the wine industry, I have studied vines but until last year other than a few visits, I had never worked in a vineyard. One of the beauties of Little Wold is that despite the fact that our oldest vines aren’t even 10 years old yet, we have an array of different ages of vines which show the development perfectly.
When we plant a vine, one of the things that we are very conscious of is the fact that it is going to take 3-4 years before we have any grapes that we can use to produce wine. They still need to be looked after in that time, pruning, leaf stripping, feeding, spraying etc. So, you have the initial cost of buying the vine and all the maintenance and then lots of time to wait. We plant new vines every year. In 2020 we planted 2000 rondo vines. This is used in the production of our three cocked hat and poppy hill rosé, as well as small amounts in some of our sparkling wines. As the popularity of both of those wines increases, we felt that dedicating a whole block to this particular grape would be key for us moving forward. In the images below you can see these vines at 1 years old. As mentioned earlier, at this age, all we are interested in is keeping the vine healthy and allowing the root structure to develop. They do grow grapes even at this early stage, just not ones we can use sadly.
These vines we hope will have a long future with us. Whilst we aren’t by any stretch a commercial vineyard, we do need to look at all of our vines and look at the average age of the vines and ensure they continue to yield as we want them to. As I mentioned, our oldest vines are approaching 10 years old so we hope they will continue to yield over the coming years. On large scale production wines, vines will be looked at more closely, more often. Most vines, if they are properly cared for and looked after, will live for 30 years in a commercial setting but many vines in the bigger production areas are replaced after 10 years. Our vines are cared for and well looked after, so hopefully, they’ll stay healthy and we can look forward to many years with them.
From one year old vines we have a patch of Phoenix grapes planted on the next block. These vines are 3 years old and we hope that this year we will see some fruit from them. When I joined Little Wold last year, one of the first jobs I did was prune the Phoenix vines after harvest. It was the first time I had done Winter pruning, so every time I walk past them and see how healthy they look, I feel quite relieved that I did it correctly. Pruning is something you have to get right, especially in the early stages of its life.
On this photo (off in the distance) you can see our oldest vines. Planted in 2012 and done with a piece of string to keep them straight and some farmers strides to measure the gaps out between each vine. The 2000 that we planted then, are now our most productive vines. We planted many different grapes varieties so that we could begin to shape our range of wines. The first wine produced was our Barley Hill White. At 10 years old they are doing very well and our hope is they will be with us for many years to come.
If we look after and nurture the young vines, they will develop well and these vines will continue to yield into old age. When you look at vines from other countries across the world, you begin to realise that there are many vines that are significantly older than 10 years. In Italy and France there are vines that date back well over 100 years. Age is not a perfect indicator of quality and the yields will usually be incredibly small. Having had the opportunity to taste some wines from incredibly old vines, I can say when they’ve been loved and looked after, they produce some truly unique wines. I tasted a Grenache from Australia made from vines that were 104 years old. It had beautiful purity and elegance. Not powerful, like young Grenache, but silky and pure. Despite it not being a country we import much wine from, America has some of the oldest vines in the world. In areas like Lodi in California, some of the oldest Zinfandel grapes are grown. They don’t really look like vines anymore, more like gnarled trees.
So, whilst we have quite a wait to know if Little Wold gets some 116 year old vines, I know the work the our Estate Manager Tom carries out in the vineyard is giving us the best possible chance for it to happen.