How a younger vineyard can emulate an older vineyard to get quality wines
It has long been an opinion in France and Spain that better wines come from older grapevines. In fact Spain officially classifies vineyards into three age categories. Now, at long last, it seems we have a good clue as to why older vineyards do better.
A seemingly unrelated subject came to my attention about ten years ago, and that is the affect of sunlight on the grapes themselves. Certain super quality vineyards such as our neighboring vineyards in the Stag’s Leap area noticed a herbaceous taste in some wines. They completely solved this problem by pulling leaves from their vines and exposing the grapes themselves to the sunlight.
Now, Dr. Richard Smart, perhaps the world’s leading viticulturist, has tied the two phenomena together. The older vines make better wine because the foliage is much more sparse and the grapes get more direct exposure to the sun. The phenomenon has even been analyzed chemically. The sun’s rays and resulting heat actually diminish the herbaceous chemical pyrazine in the skins of the grapes.
So the bottom line is that the modern vineyardist can achieve good results with younger vines by removing leaves that would otherwise shade the grapes. This process of leafing is hand-work, but it goes quickly. Our field workers make fast work of it, usually during the month of July. JARVIS winery is fortunate in that all of our grapes come from our own vineyards so we can be sure that leafing is done properly. Our experience has been that a younger vineyard can emulate an older one in achieving good quality wines. In fact, when the younger vineyard has a better clone, then it can do better than the older vineyard!