When you think you know about grape varieties you find out that there are differences within the variety, known as clones. This is especially true of the black grape Pinot Noir which is probably the most ancient wine variety we drink.
Over many centuries vines have mutated. Sometimes it is such a significant change that we recognise the mutation as a new variety, as is the case with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris/Grigio where the mutation has respectively produced white and greyish-pink grapes.
Other mutations of Pinot Noir have smaller berries or ripen earlier. Grape growers have noticed vines which differ from the rest and, if the mutation is desirable, propagate new vines from them, identifying each as a separate clone.
When you drink Pinot Noir it will usually come from a vineyard which has several different clones, chosen to give a complexity to the finished wine.
It was a first for me to be able to compare four wines each made from a different Pinot Noir clone. The wines were made in the same way by the same winemaker and from the same vintage and vineyard and were presented in a seminar at the American Wine Society conference.
Winemaker Don Crank of Willamette Valley Vineyards in Oregon poured wines from the following Pinot Noir clones
- 667 (Dijon Clone)
- 777 Dijon Clone)
Followed by a blend of all four. All were 2008 vintage and were made in neutral barrels.
Don said this was a clonal selection made by Muller (of Muller-Thurgau fame) in Switzerland. Don uses it to add complexity to a blend of clones.
I found it had a smokiness to it and it was my second favourite.
Don said that the Pommard clone accounts for two-thirds of all Pinot Noir planted in Oregon and is the one most likely to be found as a stand alone. The clone originated in the Chateau de Pommard vineyard in France.
This was fuller, richer, silkier with rounded tannins. It’s a big, almost chewy, wine and my favourite of the four.
3) Dijon Clone 667
Dan said this was an early ripening clone with smaller berries and coarser tannins.
I found it lacking flavour, thin and with a sour finish, my least favourite of the four.
4) Dijon Clone 777
Don had faint praise for this, saying is was ‘good for blending’.
I found it interesting with a sweetness but also sour cherry notes, my third favourite.
5) South Block
This is a blend of all four of the above clones, which Don called a “commercial blend”.
Didn’t seem to me to be greater than the sum of its parts and not as enjoyable as the 100% Pommard clone.
There were distinct and very noticeable differences between the wines from the four clones. If you want to try for yourself, the four single clone bottling are available as a Clonal Tasting pack from the winery, see www.wvv.com.
Have you taste dddifferent clones? Tell us on our forum.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.
Disclosure: The author travelled to the Conference at his own expense, and as a conference speaker had free entry to this seminar.