The Oldest Grapevines in the World and the New Discovery of Verjus

A few years ago I wrote about, amongst other things, the oldest grape vine in the world and it still draws some argument. Officially (according to Guinness World Records) the oldest red grape vine in the world is in Slovenia in the town of Maribor. It is over 400 years old, still bears grapes which are harvested for wine and has many offspring dotted about the globe.

Vine genetics experts in Paris have confirmed the authenticity of the age of the old vine and ancient paintings of Maribor dating from 1657 and 1681, kept in the Štajerska Provincial Museum in Graz, depict the 16th century house with the vine.

The grapevine variety is a red grape called Žametovka which is one of the oldest domesticated varieties in Slovenia. The vine grows in Lent, the oldest part of the town down by the river Drava; on the frontage of the Old Vine House. However there have been some other suggestions left by people commenting on my blog:

The grapevine at the Serbian Orthodox Monastery Hilandariou (Hilander) at Mount Athos, Greece, is reputed to be 800 years old.

There is a legend that a vine sprang from Saint Symeon’s tomb, which still bears fruit supposed to bring fertility to women and even now many women ask the monks to send them dried grapes from this vine. Grapes have been grown here since at least the 5th century but there is no evidence, as yet, that the grapevine is actually this old.

The grapevine at Pécs in Hungary, reputed to be 450 years old.

Once again there is no evidence to say the vine is this ancient. Skeptics consider it to be 150 years old. However the grape variety is being researched at the Pécs Institute of Vine and Wine. Incidentally Pécs is referred to as the ‘City of Grapes and Wine’ and locals who have lived there for several generations call themselves “tüke,” which originates from the word “tőke”meaning vine-stock.

Therefore, until proved otherwise, Maribor is the home of the world’s oldest grapevine – which is a red grape. So, where is the home of the world’s oldest white grapevine?

Last year it was discovered that the white grape vines in the courtyard of the former Jesuit College of Reims are the oldest in the world, being over 400 years old according to a DNA study. They were planted between 1610 and 1650. They story goes that in the first half of the 17th century, the Jesuits of Reims visited their mission in Ashkelon in Palestine (now Israel) and brought the vines back to the College and planted them in their courtyard.

It was believed that the grape variety was Marawi, a variety from the Middle East. (You hear so many tales of Jesuits and priests taking grapevines out to far distant lands – Carmenere and Chile come to mind – it’s good to hear that they might have brought some back as well!).

However DNA testing showed that the vines are actually the grape variety Verjus – which, until now, was thought to be extinct. Verjus was so named for its intense green coloured juice (it’s said to be almost fluorescent when decanted) and was used in cooking during the Middle Ages in both the Middle East and Europe to make the sauce Verjus (Verjuice).

It was also used for medicinal purposes. Verjuice is still made today (from unripe grapes) and now that this old grape has been found people can finally find out what the original really tasted like. Apparently the grape was also used to make wine in years when the harvest was either very late or poor. I wonder if anyone will attempt to make a wine from the grapevine in Reims?

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