Do wineries discard the first four harvests of newly planted vines?
May 19, 2015 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I cannot remember exactly where I heard this claim made, and of which wineries and wine-producing regions. I've searched Google in vain! Any confirmation, particularly from a credible published or primary source, would be very satisfying. On the one hand, maybe this is a rare practice — or, on the other, perhaps so commonplace that vintners deem it too obvious to mention?
posted by alexandermatheson to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's common to a lot of fruits (apples trees, cherry trees, blueberry bushes, etc) that a plant that starts one spring (whether as a seedling, sucker, or rooted cutting) won't bear fruit that summer; it's busy establishing a root system and growing taller. As a 1-year plant, it might flower, and may or may not set fruit, but it won't be very much, and the more fruit it bears the less tasty it will be and the less the plant will grow roots/branches. A 2-year plant (i.e. its third summer) might make fruit, but a lot of times gardeners/orchardists recommend pinching off the fruit buds for a year or two to make the plant larger/healthier. I would be surprised if vineyards allowed the vines to make fruit and then threw it out, but I would not be surprised if there was no fruit (by choice) for 4 years. But no, I don't have any documentation.
posted by aimedwander at 1:36 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've read in multiple places that it takes three to four years for newly planted vines to produce usable grapes for winemaking.

Wine Maker Mag says:
The first year of vine growth is meant to establish a strong and vigorous root system and build stores of nutrients to hasten growth in subsequent years. The first year of vine growth is not meant to produce fruit for winemaking. During the first year, all clusters should be removed immediately from the vine to keep the vine from using nutrients to ripen grapes. Also, the first year is not meant to push the vine into making fruit or fruiting wood in the second year, when it might not yet be ready to produce clusters. Some vines may be ready to produce fruit in the second year; others may not. The key here is patience and knowing when a vine has established itself to the point at which it is ready to make fruit for wine. In general, a vine is allowed to establish itself and grow vegetatively — producing no fruit — for the first two years in the ground. After the second full year of growth, the vine is commonly pruned by leaving a few canes on the trellis wires. These canes grow fruit in the third year.
posted by jaguar at 1:37 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by jaguar at 1:38 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Apparently it's also a kosher thing:

Some of the rules are going to sound a little nutty to those outside the Jewish faith, without the rationale explained in detail: Grapes from new vines may not be used for making wine until after the fourth year. Every seventh year, the fields must be left fallow, and there is a prohibition on growing other fruits and vegetables between the vines. cite
posted by pseudonick at 1:40 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Former oenology student here backing what jaguar said.
posted by Promethea at 3:17 PM on May 19, 2015

Another aspect of this is that European regulations only allow irrigation for newly planted vines. So there's an incentive to devote the growth to deep roots instead of grapes for the first few years, because after that the vines will have to survive based on rainfall.

There's definitely a strong belief that young vines produce better wine than old.
posted by wnissen at 3:54 PM on May 19, 2015

The opposite is true. Old vines are more stressed so yield less and make better wine
posted by JPD at 5:13 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

The fact that it's specifically four years makes me suspect that it's talking about kosher wine, and probably kosher wine from Israel. Otherwise it would vary from winery to winery and variety to variety, so you'd probably have read something like "a few years" rather than "four years".
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:14 PM on May 19, 2015

Best answer: I am a Winemaker. I am a Wine Grower. I am in Northern California, and what I say only relates to what I know here...and what I have heard from elsewhere...

"Third leaf" (pretty common phrase for the third year after planting, so fourth year makes sense in a way...) is usually the first time a winery (of any quality level, this isn't specific to expensive wine) will even consider making a wine from a vineyard. For the first couple of years, you just cut everything off while it's still flowering to encourage the plants to focus on roots and structure and vegetative growth, etc. Like all living things, vines are programmed to reproduce. That's fine...but they will put themselves at incredible peril and be willing to die (sound familiar?) to get their seeds viable. So, if we hope for it to live as a dry-farmed vineyard once established, which (here) in California many farmers feel is mandatory, we are usually using root-stock that is sturdy and vigorous (awesome for the vine, awful for flavor) and has a heck of a lot of work to do to dig it's roots deeeeeeep down. So...4 years is a failing fantasy for us. Which we are fine with. Even if irrigated, even the laziest strip-sprayed (round-up) crappy make yucky wine vineyards are not going to stress their vines by asking them to produce before year three. No way.

It's different in Oregon. And South Africa, Austria, Germany, Italy, etc. It really all depends on a combo of vine type, it's needs, rootstock and it's needs, dirt, weather, things and stuff.

It depends so much on the grape variety, region, winemaking style, etc. that there is certainly no hard and fast rules after year three. For example...

- We have a client with an incredible Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir vineyard that is making astonishingly good wine at 5 years. It's a rarity. I can't fathom how good it will be in ten... (Like teenagers, wines "go big" in youth and take a few years to really get established. I expect this vineyard to continue improving for 20 years before it reaches stasis.)

- We planted a vineyard to Zinfandel in 2011 that will only make Rose for a few more years...rose good enough for us to drink on a hot intentions of even trying to sell it, for now. The common wisdom is that establishing an interesting Zinfandel vineyard might take 30 years. You plant these vines for your kids...and drink free rose in the meantime!

Point is, yes. Four years seems fair. It's a vine (read: weed, scrambler, taker of any option, freakishly willing to do crazy things to live) that we turn into weird little bushes they never wanted to be...a Bonsai, in many ways.
posted by metasav at 7:15 PM on May 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

Some of the rules are going to sound a little nutty to those outside the Jewish faith, without the rationale explained in detail: Grapes from new vines may not be used for making wine until after the fourth year.

It's possible that Jewish grape growers developed those practices empirically over time, the way California wine growers presumably did, and they were later written into religious law.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:20 AM on May 20, 2015

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