Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The world's oldest vines, possibly

Andreas Jung

The story of Hildegard von Bingen's vineyard at the delightfully named Disibodenberg is fascinating because there are vines there which may have survived for centuries. The variety Orleans Gelb identified by our archaeologist friend Andreas Jung seems to have died back due to frost (to which it is sensitive) but always produced new growth. The vineyard itself was abandoned in the 19th century but there was enough light around the edges to keep the surviving vines going.

Disibodenberg vines against a wall at the ruined abbey

Orleans Gelb close up

Photos courtesy of Andreas Jung
Andreas says it is for this reason the vines are older than they look due to new growth following die-back.

The ruins of Hildegard's abbey at Disibodenberg

Hildegard von Bingen lived for 39 years at the Abbey of Disibodenberg in the 12th century. The Abbey met its end in 1550. From this Jung believes that the vines must be from before that date because no one else planted a vineyard there in the meantime.

Vineyards containg many different varieties must also be old. The highest number of varieties in any one vineyard was 48 in two neighbouring hills, each with 400 vines. This variety arose through the practice in the middle ages of replacing dead vines with new varieties rather than completely re-planting. He found a vineyard break in Brandenburg with the genuine Möhrchen (Morillon) variety which must have dated from before 1550 because there were no more Catholic monasteries after that in that area. There were altogether four extinct varieties Blaue Ortlieber (Edle Kauka), Blauer Traminer, Möhrchen and the true Müllerrebe (Pinot Meunier).

Many vines in Franken are 300 years old or older Jung says. The oldest have heads of almost 30cm. 

The oldest vine Andreas mentions stands in the gardens of the palace at Telavi, Georgia, about 1 metre thick and said to be 1,000 years old but there is nothing sure about this. The above photo is of the trunk of a vine planted by King Erekle II (Hercules) in 1770 in those gardens.

Then there is the vines at Katzenzungen, Sudtirol (Alto Adige) over 350 years old. This white variety is Versoaln, not a corruption of 'Versailles' but apparently from the local dialect meaning 'to secure with a rope' ('Wine Grapes'). A small plot has been planted with cuttings and anacidic wine with apticot on the finish has been made. Apparently this vine is unconnected to any other variety,

The Hampton Court Black Hamburgh/Trollinger/Schiava vine

Grape picking for the royal fruit bowl at Hampton Court
 and the well known Black Hamburgh (Trollinger) vine at Hampton Court planted in 1769.

There is an old vine at Maribor. According to the Guinness Book of records it may be over 400 years old. The 'About Maribor' website says

The Old Vine sort and harvest
  • The Old Vine bears grapes of the “žametovka” or the “modra kavčina” sort, which was one of the first domesticated noble vine varieties in Slovenia.
  • The yearly harvest of around 35 to 55 kg of grapes is made into wine and poured into 2.5 dl bottles designed by a famous artist Oskar Kogoj. The bottles are a valuable protocol gift – only a hundred are filled every year!
The Anthem to Old Vine
It is customary to sing while drinking wine. Songs of love, pain, happiness and truth. Which is why the Old Vine also has its own anthem, and, as they say, you are not a true citizen of Maribor unless you know the Old Vine Anthem. 

'Wine Grapes' is in two minds about this vine. On the one hand it quotes the great Jose Vuoillamoz in saying the DNA profile of this vine doesn't match any other known local or foreign variety but nonetheless refers to it indeed as Zametovka which can be found in the Dolenjska region in Posavje, South-eastern Slovenia and Bela Krajina and Podravje.

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