Barossa Chapters: Old Vines
Barossa’s multi-generational vineyards have outlived phylloxera, 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.
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 “modernise” 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 Barossa in 2009.
The Old Vine Charter – classifying vines into four categories – is dedicated to the recognition, preservation and promotion of old vineyards.
Barossa Old Vine
Equal or greater than 35 years of age.
These vines have grown beyond adolescence and are now fully mature. They have a root structure and trunk thickness that promise grapes that have a diversity of flavour and character. Their worthiness has been proven over many vintages, consistently producing the highest quality fruit for Barossa wines of distinction and longevity.
Barossa Survivor Vine
Equal or greater than 70 years of age.
These very old vines are a living symbol of traditional values in a modern environment. A Barossa Survivor vine has reached a significant milestone, and pays homage to the resolute commitment of those growers and winemakers who value the quality and structure they impart to old vine wines.
Barossa Centenarian Vine
Equal or greater than 100 years of age.
These pre-phylloxera vines have been protected and permitted to mature into their thick, gnarly trunks and naturally-sculptured forms without interference. Noted for their low yields and intensity of flavor, planted generations ago – when dry-farming techniques demanded careful site selection – Centenarian Vines have withstood the test of time.
Barossa Ancestor Vine
Equal or greater than 125+ years of age.
An Ancestor vine has stood strong and proud for at least 125 years – a living tribute to the early European settlers of the Barossa. Their genetic material has helped to populate the region with irreplaceable old stocks that underpin viticultural tradition. Mainly dry-grown, low-yielding vines yielding grapes of great flavour and intensity, they are believed to be among the oldest producing vines in the world.
"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