Barossa’s multi-generational vineyards have outlived floods, fires and wine industry booms and busts to be among the oldest in the world. Dry grown and low yielding they produce concentrated, long living wines that are in high demand internationally. Now Barossa has an Old Vine Charter to help preserve and protect these rare plantings.
“We were the first to acknowledge that these old Shiraz vineyards were a rare and valuable resource in the Barossa, something that we should value and protect. There was definitely a distinctiveness about the wines that came from them. For me the realisation of how precious these vineyards were, was a turning point in my winemaking career.”
Robert O’Callaghan, Rockford Wines
“Our old vineyard was planted by the Graetz family in 1848 and is the oldest continuously producing Grenache vineyard in the world. They are not good because they are old, they are old because they’re good. They stayed in the ground all of those years because they produced good wine consistently. In the hotter years they manage the heat better than younger vines, and in wetter years they plod along at about the same pace producing soft, delicate Grenache, year in, year out. Young vines make great wines too but they are more affected by the environment. Our old vines are part of the environment.”
Marco Cirillo, Cirillo Wines
Barossa is home to some of the oldest surviving winegrape vineyards in the world, with one gnarly old cluster believed to date back to 1843.
This claim isn’t marketing hype. In the 1860s the vine aphid phylloxera was introduced to European vineyards in vine planting material from the USA and by 1889 nearly 90% of European vineyards had been killed. The pest also spread to Australia, devastating vineyards in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.
South Australia was the only colony to have a far-sighted quarantine policy that restricted the importation of vine planting material, which meant that vineyards planted by the early Silesian settlers in the 1840s and 1850s in the Barossa continued to flourish.
The other reason that Barossa has such old vines is attributed to typical Silesian frugality – why pull out a vine if it is still bearing fruit, especially good fruit that makes great wine?
In the 1980s a State Government sponsored scheme to remove old unwanted varieties and “modernize” the industry saw many of these vines fall to the bulldozer. However, a small group of true believers paid growers to keep their old vines – mainly Shiraz and Grenache – and by the 1990s they became highly prized for their low yields of concentrated fruit. Small pockets continue to be maintained in Bethany, Langmeil, Krondorf, Greenock and in the northern Barossa.
While the idea of a Charter had been debated for a number of years, it was the Yalumba Wine Company that declared its own framework for classification in 2007, gifting it to the broader Barossa region in 2009.
The Barossa Old Vine Charter – classifying vines into four categories by age – is dedicated to the recognition, preservation and promotion of old vineyards.