400-Year Old Vine in Slovenia With the Secret of Youth

If this grapevine could talk, oh... the stories it could tell. Wars, plagues, and fires haven't been able to stop one remarkably resilient vine in Maribor, Slovenia, that is still producing fruit - and wine - at a ripe 400 years old!

Maribor, Slovenia - August 6th 2015. The Old Vine, Stara Trta - at over 400 years old, this is the oldest living grape vine, and is one of Maribor's most popular tourist attractions.
Maribor, Slovenia, The Old Vine, Stara Trta - at over 400 years old, this is the oldest living grape vine, and is one of Maribor's most popular tourist attractions. Photo: iStock.com / Dragoncello

The grapevine is possibly the bravest adventurer in the world of plants. It has traveled the world and seven seas, and sweet dreams are made of its staple product: wine. It has also survived droughts, floods, and fires, only to regrow stronger. One particular vine growing in the town of Maribor, Slovenia, is the ultimate symbol of this resilience. Called žametovka or modra kavčina, it has its place in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest vine in the world that still produces fruit.

Slovenia’s oldest vine

One particular vine has been thriving in the Slovenian sun for centuries now. Its confirmed age places it at a stunning 400-years old, which sets its plantation date sometime in the early 17th century, maybe even earlier. French laboratories have even confirmed its impressive age. It’s more than ten times older than its average cousin: most vines have an average lifespan of 25 to 30 years.

It was planted sometime around the Turkish invasions, which the old vine heroically stood up to. It was on the frontline, as the wall it grew on was part of the city’s walls. It also survived Napoleon’s invasion of the Illyrian Provinces, both World Wars, and, most impressively, a fatal epidemic of phylloxera that decimated vines across Europe in the mid 19th century.

The legacy lives on

Right next to the 400-year-old vine (žametovka) grows its daughter, taken from the cutting off of one of the branches of the original vine. Other cuttings are given as a very exclusive souvenir to people such as Jordanian King Abdullah II and former Slovenian President Milan Kučan.

An equally esteemed prize is the wine produced from the plant’s fruits. Each year it gives enough juice for about 25 liters of wine, which makes about 100 of the prized 250ml bottles per year. These are given to VIPs, such as pope Benedict XVI, Japan’s Emperor Akihito, former California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former US President Bill Clinton, and actor Brad Pitt.

Little do we know who has actually opened their bottles. At least one has, though, as a journalist quoted them describing the wine as “virtually undrinkable.” It’s far better when left in the unique bottle designed especially for it by artist Oskar Kogoj.

To pay due respect to the most resilient vine in the world, head to the Old Vine House at 8 Vojanska Street. And then look around for a decent venue for a glass of perfectly drinkable – if not quite as honored – Slovenian wine.

Przemysław Bociąga

is a Polish journalist and essayist based in Warsaw. An anthropologist and art historian by education, he specializes in combining cultural phenomena with compelling narrative. He has authored and co-authored several books covering lifestyle and history. The most recent of them is “Impeccable. The biography of masculine image”. He has contributed to many leading magazines, both in print and online, and teaches cultural anthropology to college students.

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