Walk into any wine shop and you’ll spot the words “old vines” - or their French (“vielle vignes”) and Spanish (“vinas viejas”) equivalents - emblazoned on a bunch of bottles, but the term itself doesn’t tell you much. There is no official standard delineating old from middle-aged, or merely adult vines: “old vines” on a label can mean anything from 20 to 120 years of age. Old vines do not automatically lead to better wine either - factors like terroir and farming and winemaking methodology and skill are still crucial determinants of overall quality; and younger vines tend to yield wine that is more fruit forward and exuberant.  But If handled with care, old vines reward the investments of time and labor they require with uniquely complex and focused renderings of the history and soil from which they spring. The two wineries we are featuring this month, Hewitson in South Australia and Desante in the Napa Valley, farm some of the world’s oldest vines, and produce, from opposite ends of the Earth, wine that aspires to these possibilities. 

The oldest living grape vines in the world are in Slovenia and date back to the 17th century (!) but, generally speaking, it takes much less time - about 30 to 50 years - for vines to enter their golden years. Once planted, grape vines take about three or four years to start producing fruit; they achieve maturity around the fifth or sixth year and will continue to grow for a few more decades before their yields begin steadily decreasing, and plateau around year fifty.  At this point, the vine’s roots have had time to reach down through more layers of soil, adding complexity, and they can pull their water and nutrients from further below the surface, ensuring drought resistance and preventing too much vintage variation. Most importantly, the vines are producing less and less grape bunches, which allows the remaining fruit to soak up more sun, concentrating the flavor and aromas in the fruit and the resultant wine. 

Although it is in one of the world’s youngest winemaking countries, Australia’s Barossa Valley is home to some of the oldest continuously wine producing vineyards on the planet. It is also the only region in the world with an Old Vine Charter that certifies and categorizes each vine according to its age. The oldest vines are classified as “Barossa Ancestor Vineyards” and must be at least 125 years old. Hewitson Winery farms one such site, the Old Garden Vineyard, planted in 1853, which boasts the world’s oldest Mourvedre vines. While the Old Garden Mourvedre is a little too pricey for Wine Club, its progeny, the Baby Bush Mourvedre, is an intriguing synthesis of historically old and young adult vines. Harvested from bush trained cuttings of the Old Garden vineyard, planted in 1998, it is youthful and vibrant but with great balance, structure and a savoriness redolent of its distinguished pedigree. 

DeSante Winery is the passion project of David and Katherine Desante.  They ally with small, unheralded vineyards in Napa Valley to make limited production wines from old vines. While they do produce classic Napa varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, their most interesting project is the Old Vine cuvee from the Proof Vineyard. Farmed by two women in their 60’s, the site wasn’t used to make wine until the DeSantes happened upon it, and to this day most of the fruit it yields goes to a nearby hospital. The Desantes get work with what is left, and while the yields are miniscule, producing 5 or 6 barrels of white wine per year, the materials are extraordinary: 70–100-year-old vines, planted to nearly extinct varietals like Sauvignon Vert, Golden Chasselas, Green Hungarian and other aromatic whites, dry farmed since the 1950s (because that’s when the well failed.)


PlumpJack Wine Team

2017 Hewitson ‘Baby Bush’ Mourvedre

Region / Country of Origin:  Barossa Valley, Australia

About the winemaker: Dean Hewitson received his oenology degree in 1986 from Roseworthy Agricultural College in South Australia. Over the next decade, he worked at wineries in Australia, France, Italy, and Oregon and earned a Masters in Winemaking from the world-renowned program at UC-Davis. On his return home, Dean brought a wealth of knowledge, practical experience, and a driving passion to the eponymous winery he founded in 1998.

As a result of Hewitson’s education and experience in Australia, California and France, his wines combine Old-World traditions with New-World fruit purity.  With a “Sustainable Winegrowing Australia” certification, he is a practitioner in solar energy, water recycling and encouraging natural biodiversity and is proud to produce these wines in an environmentally sustainable fashion.

About the winemaking: Vineyard is dry farmed; the grapes are hand-harvested at the beginning of April.  Vinification is a combination of whole bunch and skins with a minimum of two weeks remontage and punch-down before 15 months aging in neutral French barriques.

Tasting Notes: Medium red with a bright purple hue. Aromas of dark, brambly, blueberry aromas are matched with dried herbs, earth, and undergrowth. On the palate, sarsaparilla and classic blue fruits deliver a rich, velvety mouthfeel, backed by very soft and fully ripe tannins.

Winemaker: Dean Hewitson

$24 bottle/ $259.20 case

Suggested Food Pairing:

Barbecue Portobello Mushrooms

Grilled Lamb Shank

Dark Chocolate











2018 DeSante “The Old Vines” White

Region / Country of Origin:

Napa Valley, California

About the Winemaker: Originally from Western Pennsylvania, David Desante studied aerospace and medicine on the East Coast before embarking on a career in wine with his wife Katherine. David received his degree in Viticulture and Oenology from UC Davis before working for Trefethen and Robert Mondavi in Napa. He and Katherine then moved to Australia to work at Cullen Wines, where they were introduced to organic and biodynamic farming methods. They started DeSante in 2001, and whilst consulting for other wineries, have focused on creating unique small production wine from some of Napa’s oldest vineyards and vines.

About the winemaking: Bottled unfined and unfiltered with yeast lees retained in the bottle to minimize sulfur addition and maximize complexity. Elevated on lees for 9 months in neutral oak barrels.

Tasting Notes: Exotic aromas of apple tarte tatin and star anise. The palate is round, full and bright - a delicious combination of traits. Roasted pear and succulent green gage plum buoy the deeper honeycomb-like waxy traits that arise on the finish.

Tasting Notes: Tasting Notes: Exotic aromas of apple tarte tatin and star anise. The palate is round, full, and bright - a delicious combination of traits. Roasted pear and succulent green gage plum buoy the deeper honeycomb-like waxy traits that arise on the finish.

Winemaker: David and Katherine DeSante

$26 bottle / $280.80 case

Suggested Food Pairings:

Pork Tenderloin

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Swordfish w/ Asparagus & Lentils




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