Old Vines – why are they important?
A short article on old vines by Caro Feely of Chateau Feely
Old vines have a depth of spirit, a different sensation, in the vineyard and in the glass. I’m urged to lay down among them and be. I lie on the grass and feel their energy, their collective force. I smell their aromas, herbaceous and woody. National vine records say our Sémillon was planted in 1962. The family that owned it at the time say it was 1945, the year they bought the farm. No matter the date, they are all individuals rather than clones that became the norm in the 1980’s.
If farmed naturally, vines offer good yield from fifteen to fifty years and potentially well beyond. After forty, volume may decrease but complexity is the compensation, hence the pride with which ‘old vines’ is displayed on a label. This is not a legislated term but is generally only used on wine made from vineyards over forty years old.
Chateau Feely is 14 hectares with 7 hectares of vines, 2 hectares of land that is resting, a hectare of forest and about 4 hectares of wild conservation area. There is just over a hectare of old vine Sémillon and close to a hectare of old vine Merlot Noir planted in 1973.
We make two wines from the Sémillon. Feely Silex, naturally fermented and aged in stainless steel for 18 months, is made from lighter vintages. Feely Générosité, naturally fermented then aged in light toast barrels from Jupilles forest in the Loire, is made from more robust vintages. The vineyard is east facing on limestone and flintstone. Silex gives strong notes of flint with an undertow of the cool salinity of the limestone. Générosité offers a round richness. Both have the signature stone fruit (apricot, peach) and green fruit (apple, pear) of Sémillon but with a depth, complexity, and age-worthiness we have not found in young vine Sémillon. We started making Générosité in 2008. We tasted that that first vintage 2008 and the one available now, 2018, for a professional tasting a few months ago. The 2008 was a revelation for everyone: silky-smooth texture, beautiful honey, nut and smoke aromas, and great depth of flavour and complexity (you can taste it by ordering our special edition vintage case below). It reminded us of a great aged Loire Chenin blanc.
When we taste Sémillon wines in the greater region and compare them to Silex and Générosité, we know we have an exceptional plant heritage in our old vines, something that gives us a quality that cannot be matched by vines planted post 1982. This is a heritage as worthy of protection as the castles in the region and the Gallo-Roman well and 10th century walls in the cellar at Feely farm. It is a heritage of the landscape, a patrimony of this region.
The Merlot old vines are also far superior in terms of taste and quality when compared to the Merlot planted after 1980. These parcels are used for Feely Grace, our top red wine, and Feely La Source. Both are naturally fermented barrel aged reds with the signature minerality of Feely wines thanks to the limestone plateau and its slopes that form the base of the farm.
Sean prunes the old vines as individuals as he does all our vineyards but takes extra care. For example, we only prune these grandes dames on the ideal biodynamic days with a descending moon. In winter, pulling the wood, a couple of rows behind him, I’m urged to lie down among these ancients. I feel the earth’s vibration and their silence, and sense of peace. I reach out to touch a gnarled trunk, twisted, curved living sculpture, and feel a connection with all beings, a sense of reaching out across time and space.
Find out more about our way of farming with organic and biodynamic practices on the Feely organic and biodynamic online trail.
You can read about the story of this organic farm – the series includes three books
Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France (Caro Feely Book 1).
Summersdale publishers have also made the 3 book series available as a bundle for the UK market Caro Feely (3 Book Series)
by Caro Feely. Or even better order a case of organic wine including shipping in the EU. Join the mailing list to receive a seasonal newsletter, events, wine pairing, recipes and more info on this topic at the bottom right of this page.