Question from Josh: We were in Napa Valley last weekend and noticed more than one vineyard that had been cleared. The stumps were piled up. How long do the vines last?
Reply: ‘Tis the season. The grower takes the last crop and rips out the vineyard. I remember sitting by a vineyard with some friends about this time last year when all of a sudden this huge bulldozer showed up and ruthlessly mowed down what looked like perfectly healthy vines. I’ve seen it before but my friends were mortified.
There’s no simple answer to your question. Virtually every vineyard that’s knocked down is still alive and producing a crop. The vines can live a remarkably long time. You’ll see some very gnarly, tortured looking old vines that predate prohibition in the Sierra foothills and in Sonoma. Here in Napa Valley they’re out there, too, but it’s more of a hunt.
Common practice in old vineyards is to replace individual vines with new ones as they die off. In that case there’s no absolute age for the vineyard. You think of it in terms of average age.
What I can say is that the economic life of a vineyard is often somewhere in the thirties. When the vines are in their twenties they become less vigorous and the crop yield often has to be scaled back. It could be because they have some kind of virus. Or it could be because they’re simply getting old. At some point a decision has to be made. Continue reading