Notebooks from a trampfest. Travel tips, tales and images, online since 2006.

A Visit to the Planet’s Oldest Grapevine

If I were the going-on-a-pilgrimage type, paying my respects to the Stara Trta, or, Old Vine, that snakes its way across a large trellis facing the Drava River in Maribor, Slovenia, would be near the top of the list. Fortunately it’s nearby, getting there requires little planning and even involves a glass or two of wine. Yup, my kind of pilgrimage.

It’s not just any plant. Pushing 450 years of age, Stara trta is the oldest continually producing grape vine on the planet, the crown jewel of Maribor, Slovenia’s second city.

It’s survived phylloxera, two world wars, countless occupations and invasions, Napoleon, the Ottomans and allied bombing raids. Forty popes have come and gone since it first sprouted.

Vines, as any winemaker will tell you, need to struggle to produce good grapes; the life of this one, that produces between 35 and 55 kilograms of fat red bunches of the autochthonous Modra Kavčina, or Žametovka grapes annually, has bled struggle.

That’s not to say the wine it produces is the world’s finest. Or even on a short list. Most people will never know, not even the select few fortunate enough to lay claim to one of the 100 or so 250ml bottles that are added to the city cellars each year. It’s too rare and collectible to ever be tasted.

It’s not for sale, but rather dispersed at the pleasure of the town council. That means it’s visiting dignitaries like Bill Clinton, Pope Benedict XVI, Japan’s Emperor Akihito, Vladimir Putin, the Dalai Lama, Brad Pitt, Kim Jong-Un and Arnold Schwarzenegger who get to add them to their collection. (Is there anything else that group could possibly have in common?) Each bottle comes with a certificate of origin and number, with the recipients’ names added to a registry kept in the city’s archives. Provenance is important.

Its age was first determined from a pair of old paintings and then later by a variation of the tried and true ‘counting the rings’ method.

The paintings, kept in the Štajerska Provincial Museum in Graz, date from 1657 and 1681, and depict the vine on a trellis growing prominently on the same house it rests on now. Records indicate that the building, once part of the city’s wall, has existed since the 16th century and that its southern, riverfront side hasn’t undergone any major architectural modifications since. It’s generally accepted the vine was already at least 100 years old by 1657.

Old vine wine, 2017 vintage.

Further tests conducted in 1972 by professors at the University of Ljubljana and vine geneticists from France supported those estimates, establishing that the vine was then at least 400 years old. Decay at its center renders it impossible to read all of its annual rings, preventing scientists from coming up with a more accurate figure. Thus the inscription on a plaque next to the vine that notes its entry into the Guiness Book of World Records characterizing it as “more than 400 years old”.

The building is now known as The Old Vine House, which houses a small museum dedicated to the Stara Trta. There’s a great selection of old photos showing how the vine was incorporated into the every day life of several generations of residents. In one, an old car tire rests against it; in another laundry hangs drying. I was especially taken by another that dated to the early 1980s which showed how run down the building and immediate area still were just three decades ago. It appeared as though the only thing keeping the building from caving in on itself was the vine, holding firm.

There’s also a generous selection of locals wines available for tasting at very reasonable prices — old vine wine not included.

 

The Old Vine House
Vojašniška 8, 2000 Maribor
Hours: open daily; October – April 9am-6pm; May-September 9am-8pm.
Admission is free.

Best time to visit? There’s never a bad time when wine’s involved but note that there’s an annual Old Vine Festival each October.

 

Looking for a place to stay? Check out some Maribor options via Booking.com and Agoda.com.

 

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  1. Hans says

    As a bit of a vinophile, I’ll have to visit this place … thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    1. Bob R says

      As I said, if we vinophiles are the pilgrimage types, a visit to the old vine would fit that bill. 🙂

  2. Alli Farkas says

    Every time I read something public about an ancient tree or plant I always have this uneasy feeling that some fool is going to come along and damage or destroy it. Losing what little faith in humanity I have left, I guess. It’s truly incredible (can’t think of a better word at this moment) that this vine has survived so much for so long.

    1. Bob R says

      It’s pretty well protected from knuckleheads now. But yes, incredible is an apt descriptor.

  3. Somnath says

    Very well framed article..

  4. gokulr27 says

    That is a nice post remembering the oldest vine. 400 years is an incredible achievement.

  5. Mrs. Millennial says

    Wow, this is really interesting – I had no idea you could visit the world’s oldest grapevine. Very interesting story along with it, thank you for sharing!

  6. Claire Summers says

    I do love a good glass of wine! I must admit I don’t know very much about wine though. Although I did do some wine tasting in a pub I worked at in the UK once…ended up getting very drunk which I don’t think was the plan haha. Interesting post.

  7. Ricci – When In My Journeys says

    Amazing, there’s a lot of history in that tree.

    1. Bob R says

      Technically, it’s not really a tree. But yeah, it’s seen a lot. 🙂

  8. Paula - Gone with the Wine says

    Wow, this was interesting! I never knew about this place or that the oldest vine would be in Slovania. I would love to visit this place someday. Will have to bookmark this one!

    1. Bob R says

      The oldest of anything has to exist somewhere. 🙂 I’m glad this one happens to be nearby.

  9. neha says

    Well..I don’t drink wine but I love visiting wine yards. I also love to know the process of wine making and how the perfect grapes are picked for the same. I will definitely like to check this place out

  10. Zoya says

    The oldest vine is in Slovenia? What?! This was a fascinating read, just my cup of tea! I love a good glass of wine, although I do prefer white over red. But, I’d love to actually see the vine and get lost in the little museum.

  11. Iza (@IzaAbao) says

    This 400-year old vine is incredible. The stalk looks unbelievable. How long is it? There are probably a lot of wine connoisseurs who have visited this place already.

  12. Anita says

    It’s the first time I hear about more than 400 years old vine and it looks incredibly good. It would be great to see it if I would visit this area.

  13. Riely says

    Such amazing history and incredible the vine latest over 400 years through all the turmoil. It’s a shame you will never know the taste of the wine this vince produces.

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