"Your piece on the very old vines in Australia [WineSpeed: August 7, 2020] made me wonder about how “old vines” are defined. I am curious if the vines on the island of Santorini in Greece, which have very old roots, count as old vines?"—Eleni Papadakis (Portland, OR)
The vines on the volcanic Greek island of Santorini are trained into kouloura (wreaths or baskets) to protect the grapes from fierce winds and unrelenting sun (the grapes hang inside the baskets). The vines grow, wound into bigger and bigger baskets, for an average of 80 years, whereupon the vine is “revitalized” by decapitating it just above the ground. When dormant buds begin to grow from the roots, a whole new top begins. A vine may be revitalized up to 5 times in its life. That’s 5 x 80 years, or a root system that’s at least 400 years old. Eleni—thank you! We should have noted this in our piece.
Final thought: after Eleni wrote in, I began to wonder if a root system (as opposed to the whole vine) qualified as an old vine. I asked Dr. Carole Meredith, Professor Emerita, Department of Viticulture and Enology, University of California at Davis. Said Dr. Meredith, “My own opinion with regard to the Santorini vines is that, assuming the vines are on their own roots (as I believe the Santorini vines are) and not grafted to a rootstock, I would consider these old vines. The fact that the above-ground portion is [pruned] every few decades is no different than for any other old vine that is pruned every year. The fruit-bearing shoots are always going to be young on any grapevine.” So there we have it.