Home Wine Business Editorial Viticulture The Old Vine Registry — U.K.-Driven, Crowd-Sourced, Global Encompassing — Launches with...

The Old Vine Registry — U.K.-Driven, Crowd-Sourced, Global Encompassing — Launches with Noble Ambitions

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The Old Vine Registry endeavors to maintain a list that is
“dynamic, alive, up-to-date, and growing.”

By Randy Caparoso

 

Last month, on June 26, 2023, The Old Vine Registry officially launched worldwide. This is a big deal in more ways than you can think. 

As The Old Vine Registry states on its home page, this is “the world’s first crowd-sourced global database of living historic vineyard sites.” Its goal, “to create the world’s most authoritative record of these vineyards in the hopes that, through greater awareness and attention, these vineyards and the wines they produce will survive and thrive.”

Jancis Robinson, MW, with her husband Nick Lander in Lodi’s Kirschenmann Vineyard, planted in 1915.
Jancis Robinson, MW, with her husband Nick Lander in Lodi’s Kirschenmann Vineyard, planted in 1915.

In a webinar broadcast internationally, renowned British author and Master of Wine Jancis Robinson remarked on how The Old Vine Registry grew “out of an Excel spreadsheet started 13 years ago, and grew and grew until it became impossible to manage… We decided it should have its own website — one that is free and open to all — and can continue to grow organically.”

Alder Yarrow, the author of the internationally followed Vinography and a JancisRobinson.com contributor, was tasked with organizing The Old Vine Registry site. In the webinar, Yarrow commented, “We have about 2,200 records of old vine vineyards… There should be another 10,000 from around the world added by the time we’re done.” In the inaugural listing, there are 341 old vine California growths listed. Yarrow explained that “old vine,” according to The Old Vine Registry, is defined as vineyards at least 35 years or older — “35 years, because that’s when vineyards are typically torn out and replanted.”

Preserving Old Vines

The Old Vine Registry is also an outgrowth of the U.K.-based The Old Vine Conference, a campaign first undertaken two years ago to preserve old vines around the world. One of the conference co-founders, Sarah Abbot, MW, remarked on the webinar that old vines are “living lessons of how we can farm wines more sustainably in the future,” citing studies that conclusively demonstrate how old vines “are better able to withstand drought and heat stress and give better quality wines.” 

JancisRobinson.com senior editor Tamlyn Currin added, “One of the goals is to open up discussions around the world on how to plant young vineyards that are capable of growing older.” The Old Vine Registry, adds Abbot, “gives old vines a home… It is not just a list, it also has links to sites where you can find the wines made from these vineyards [primarily on wine-searcher.com], essentially making it possible to ‘drink the vineyard.'”

Lodi’s Own Version

Zinfandel in Lodi’s Marian’s Vineyard; own-rooted vines planted in 1901.
Zinfandel in Lodi’s Marian’s Vineyard; own-rooted vines planted in 1901.

The goals cited by the minds behind The Old Vine Registry is simpatico with Lodi’s own Save the Old movement, launched three years ago to drum up awareness and appreciation of Lodi’s old vines. Whereas as the Old Vine Registry lists vineyards 35 years or older, in Lodi, vineyards with original plantings at least 50 years old are considered “old vine” — in alignment with California’s nonprofit Historic Vineyard Society, which stipulates that vineyards with at least a third of its plants more than 50 years old can be considered “old.” As the Lodi growers write on their own Save the Old page:

Here in Lodi, California, old vines are living, breathing remnants of our winegrowing history; silent reminders that our roots in farming run deep… Generation after generation, our growers have cared for thousands of acres of these old, gnarly, 50-, 75-, 100-plus-year-old vines out of love and nostalgia. Due to their labor of love, Lodi is indisputably home to California’s highest concentration of own-rooted, old vine vineyards—a fact which is a source of great pride among our community.

But these old vine vineyards are in danger, and not only in Lodi. Each year in California, hundreds of acres of old vine vineyards are ripped out. Increasing costs of vineyard management, low yields, urban developments, and a diminishing return (i.e. scant prices) is forcing many growers to replace beloved vineyards with rows of younger, more productive vines.

These living artifacts of agricultural history are disappearing, one by one. And once they’re gone, they’re gone. And so are the special wines made from those vineyards. As special as they are, we believe these old vine vineyards deserve to stay in the ground. Our mission is simple: preserve Lodi’s historical vineyards for generations to come. And in doing so, inspire a movement among like-minded people throughout the winegrowing regions of California and beyond.

But we can’t save these vineyards alone. We need someone like you to care as much as we do; to seek out these vineyards and the wines that are made from them; to tell their stories and advocate for their preservation.

Old Vine Mission Statement

The Old Vine Registry page couches its own goals in sustainable and biological languages:

Saving old vines is not a romantic endeavour, it is addressing a planetary crisis… Old vines carry the secrets of survival and have adapted to stress over decades and even centuries. They are often more resilient in times of drought and heatwave, they have learnt to live with or develop immunity to pests and diseases, they have survived extreme weather events.

Old vines are also much more adapted to the soils they’re planted in and therefore more resilient. Unlike young vines, they don’t need irrigating and they need less, if any, chemical inputs to survive. Old vineyards are also often full of clonal diversity and rare varieties. The genes of old vines can be studied, and old-vine material can be propagated for more resilient young vines.

In addition, these big, gnarly vines are significant reservoirs of biomass and carbon; they play vital roles in local hydrological cycles; their old, deep-and-wide root networks are inextricably bound up with and connected to the mycorrhizal networks that sustain, feed and protect our soils. Old vines are also linked to social sustainability in terms of retaining, preserving, celebrating, recognising, respecting and dignifying tradition, old wisdom, handed-down knowledge, experience and the people who are an integral part of that.

In respect to the question of how to protect and save old vines, The Old Vine Registry’s proposal is, as they put it, “blunt”: The “answer is to monetize.” Among The Old Vine Registry organization’s suggestions:

Old vines cost more. They also have more value. We need to value old-vine wine more than we do. Governments need to stop funding rip-out schemes that replace older vines with young vines that need irrigating for many years (irrigation systems which may not be viable in the future). Governments, businesses, organisations and academic institutions need to fund protection schemes, tax-break incentives, supportive education and training for winegrowers, trials and research. Wine producers need to pay more for old-vine grapes; importers, distributors, retailers and consumers need to all be willing to pay more for old-vine wines.

Our hope is that the Old Vine Registry will build a community of people and places, and energise a global ecosystem that sets this in motion.

Your Information Is Needed

As a crowd-sourced initiative, interested parties around the world are encouraged to navigate the The Old Vine Registry database. Searches can be accurately narrowed down by vineyard name, winery name, region or grape. If there is a vineyard at least 35 years old with historic attributes that should be included, you may submit the information that you have on the website. 

There is also a page for feedback, where corrections or additional information may be contributed to current listings. Going into the future, this crowd-sourced input will be essential, as old vine plantings are constantly in flux in terms of every facet, from ownership, name, vineyard management and size to the identification of brands or producers sourcing from these vineyards. Many vineyards, sadly, will simply cease to exist — it will be necessary to keep The Old Vine Registry up-to-date in terms of that as well.

Finally, images: Almost all of the 53 Lodi AVA old vine growths included in the inaugural The Old Vine Registry listing have vivid photographs of the vineyard sites, but most of the vineyards in the rest of California and elsewhere around the world do not. Readers who are willing to contribute high resolution photographs to the public domain through Wikipedia Commons are encouraged to contact the team through the site’s feedback page. They can use all the help they can get.

Like old vines themselves, The Old Vine Registry endeavors to maintain a list that is “dynamic, alive, up-to-date and growing.” It will take a groundswell of supporters and consumer pocketbooks to help make this happen. 

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Randy Caparoso
Randy Caparoso

Randy Caparoso

Randy Caparoso is a full-time wine journalist/photographer living in Lodi, California. In a prior incarnation, he was a multi-award winning restaurateur, starting as a sommelier in Honolulu (1978 through 1988), and then as Founding Partner/VP/Corporate Wine Director of the James Beard Award winning Roy’s family of restaurants (1988-2001), opening 28 locations from Hawaii to New York. While with Roy’s, he was named Santé’s first Wine & Spirits Professional of the Year (1998) and Restaurant Wine’s Wine Marketer of the Year (1992 and 1998). Between 2001 and 2006, he operated his own Caparoso Wines label as a wine producer. For over 20 years, he also bylined a biweekly wine column for his hometown newspaper, The Honolulu Advertiser (1981-2002). He currently puts bread (and wine) on the table as Editor-at-Large and the Bottom Line columnist for The SOMM Journal (founded in 2007 as Sommelier Journal), and freelance blogger and social media director for Lodi Winegrape Commission (lodiwine.com). You may contact him at randycaparoso@earthlink.net

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