The Oldest Vine in the World

‘Old Vine’, included in the Guinness Book of Records

The heart of Maribor's old town, Lent, provides refuge for the Old Vine. Photo: Igor Modic

How would one describe the wine made from the grapes of the oldest vine in the world? Precious – no doubt about that. With a fine bouquet and taste. To many wine lovers, priceless. In front of a house in the old Lent Quarter of Maribor, on the left bank of the Drava River, is the so-called ‘Old Vine’, included in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest existing vine in the world. With its venerable age of four hundred years, it is a fitting symbol of Slovenia’s rich vine-growing and winemaking culture, especially in the merry Štajerska region where several wine routes crisscross the sun-drenched hilly landscape. The variety is known as Žametovka or Modra Kavčina in Slovene and is naturally one of the oldest domesticated grape varieties in Slovenia. It is also the origin of numerous younger plants growing around the world: many dignitaries visiting Slovenia receive graft of the Lent vine as a gift.

‘Festival of the Old Vine’

The large clusters of big grapes yield a clear bright red juice. The wine has a pleasant, full taste with high residual sugar content. The quality of the wine is also due to the venerable vine’s excellent location – a sunny plot of land overlooking the wide river. Throughout the year, events under the name ‘From Vine to Wine’ take place in the town on the banks of the Drava, the most eagerly awaited being the ritual grape harvest at the end of September known as the ‘Festival of the Old Vine’.

The four-century-old ‘plant of the gods’ yields between 35 and 55 kilograms of grapes per year, which is far from enough to an average winemaker, but the symbolic value is all the greater and, in the long run, of greatest importance for many. The Modra Kavčina wine is bottled in neat 250 ml bottles specially designed by renowned Slovenian design artist Oskar Kogoj. Most of the approximately one hundred bottles of wine produced annually are used as gifts by the municipal and state authorities. But the noble drink made from the grapes of the oldest vine in the world requires some ageing, which is in the domain of the Vinag Company Wine Cellar, one of the oldest classic wine cellars in Europe, which lies beneath Maribor.

Confirmed by experts on vine genetics from Paris

And how does one know for sure that the 'Old Vine’ of Maribor is, in fact, the oldest in the world? The authenticity of the vine first attested by expert measurements taken by Slovenian oenologists has been confirmed by experts on vine genetics from Paris. The vine was planted at least four hundred years ago, and probably even before that. The collection of paintings at the Styrian State Museum in nearby Graz, Austria, includes panoramas of Maribor dating back from 1657 and 1681, respectively, where one can distinguish a house standing on Vojašniška Lane, in front of which there stands a trellis with an abundant vine, the very same plant that is the oldest vine in the world today.