Wine Talk

Snooth User: zufrieden

Clones of the Pinot Noir

Posted by zufrieden, Dec 20, 2009.

Some discussion of clones may shed light on the New World expression of Pinot Noir. I have long believed that clones explain a great deal of the diversity found in the many wines made from this globe-hopping noble grape. Terroir, vineyard maintenance and climate do not seem to fully explain the differences - at least, not to my satisfaction. Given the notoriously finicky nature of Pinot Noir, I think the topic of clones might be interesting to explore. Yet strangely, little of a popular nature seems to be written on the subject.

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 20, 2009.

So what clones do we encounter from Burgougne, and what from California, Oregon and the rest of the New World? Any case studies to make this issue clearer to readers?

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Reply by zufrieden, Dec 20, 2009.

One of the reasons I chose to open this thread was to seek out some more recent research in this area; non-technical discussion seems a bit thin on the ground. But to start things off, there are two broad classifications of Pinot Noir: Pinot droit and Pinot fin. Beneath these two sets of "selections" there are hundreds of numbered clones - most of which are considered inferior. I will suggest a few sites for readers to peruse in another reply later this evening.

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Reply by zufrieden, Dec 20, 2009.

Try this URL to see the complexity of the issue of clonal selection:

http://www.winegrowers.info/varieti...

My next suggestion is to look at the various websites of the individual California, Washington State, Oregon, British Columbia, Ontario, New Zealand, and other New World regional producers. These growers - especially if modest in terms of overall production - will often have an informative discussion of the importance of clones, mutations and cuttings from select vineyards.

Hopefully, this will generate some opinions. As a lover of the sensual Pinot Noir, I look forward to any information followers of this thread can offer.

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 22, 2009.

Do you want to talk about clones for other varietals at all? Was in an interesting, if perhaps a bit geeky, discussion with an acquaintance about Sangiovese clones the other night....

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Reply by gregt, Dec 22, 2009.

But sangiovese is a little different isn't it?

That's been called a biotype, which is completely frustrating because some people use that as a synonym for clone while others don't and instead refer to it as something that will breed true but may be genetically different from the parent, as opposed to a clone, which is directly propagated from the original plant.

Anyhow, I think the idea of clonal choice may be one factor, but I don't think it's by any means the only factor and moreover, it's very hard to isolate anything due solely to clone selection.

The idea is that promiscuous grapes, or those prone to mutation, like PN or sangiovese, which are also very ancient, have accumulated many clonal variants over the ages. With PN, some of those are so different we call them by different names - e.g.Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, whereas others are more similar.

However, even the "similar" clones of Pinot Noir get grouped by various degrees of similarity - for example their growth habits. So you have pinot driot = upright plants, pinot fructifer =high-yielding, pinot fin = low-growing or trailing and low-yielding with tight clusters, etc.

So in a way, especially with the color differences, zufrieden is right.

But you can simply eliminate clonal variation as a factor by taking cuttings from one place and rooting those somewhere else. In fact, all of the new world plants have arrived through just that method.

There are a lot of suitcase imports where people simply brought clones over surreptitiously. Al Brounstein said he was actually given his cuttings by one or several Bordeaux chateau as long as he never revealed the source(s). Gary Pisoni has admitted to bringing over some cuttings and passing them out to others and Josh Jenson from Calera the same.

So that counters zufrieden's contention. But of course, that is not the end of the story.

In the old days, growers would do massale selection. They'd pick their best plants and propagate those. You might select the best yielding vines. I might select the most disease resistant. Someone else might select those with the smallest clusters and so on. So each vineyard ended up being filled with a group of vines that were different and yet perhaps had more in common than the vines in someone else's yard.

Today we can do some genetic research and we can identify clones with far more certainty than before. Also, we are aware that many plants, grapes included, are virused and those viruses affect the plant in different ways. In striped roses for example, the stripes come from viruses. In that case it adds to the attraction of the plant. But other viruses have negative effects. Therefore, people have figured out several ways of eliminating viruses from plants.

Now you have a specific clone with or without a virus. You might plant your vineyard to that clone. You don't have the selection that the old vineyard in Italy, France, or Spain used to have. So it's getting harder to argue zufrieden's point because you are unlikely to have the same diversity of clones in a single vineyard in the new world, but on the other hand, you wont' have precisely the same groups of clones in separate European vineyards either so you don't know which variables are at play.

But even if you did have the identical mix of clones in Europe and California, you are growing your grapes in a completely different area. You have different humidity, different sun exposure, and different planting methods.

In Burgundy, they don't talk about their clones, they talk about their terroir and winemaking. I think it's the same in the US, and in fact easier to highlight. You can isolate single clones and plant only those in one vineyard but still get different wines. What is it that makes wines from the same vineyard different? Shea vineyard for example, is the source for several winemakers. Why do wineries using the same fruit make such different wine? In that case, I think it's everything but the clone that makes the difference.

Another example is Beckstoffer, although he deals more with cab. If you look at Beckstoffer's vineyards, he might orient the rows of a certain block one way because that winemaker wants them so, or the grapes might be picked sooner or later, or planted more densely or less.

So I think the selection of clone is one of many factors that can be used, but not the only one. I spent time with a winemaker two weeks ago. She identified several vines in her vineyard that just seemed different. She vinified their grapes separately and the resutling wine was completely different from the rest of it. Those may be different clones but of course they may just be some different grapes altogether - it's an old vineyard and she doesn't have any genetic ID. At any rate, in her case, the "clone" was the difference. But in Beckstoffer's case, I don't think it's the clone at all. And in the case of CA pinot noir, I doubt that it's the clone.

It's kind of funny - about a month ago I did a tasting to examine exactly that idea. I tried to get chardonnay from the Russian River that was planted with the Wente clone vs another group that was planted with one or two of the newer Dijon clones. It was pretty inconclusive because not that many people use the Wente clone any more. It tends to have chicken and egg clusters - big and little grapes on the same cluster and they don't ripen evenly so most people don't use it now except for a few die hards. So I didnt' learn as much as I'd wanted to except to conclude that probably the best thing you can do with chardonnay is make Chablis

Here is something that Veronique Drouhin-Boss wrote:

". . .When we built the winery in Oregon, we replicated much of what one would find at our winery in Beaune, France. The main difference is that in Oregon we had the ability to build on a hillside, which allowed us to create an elegant, efficient gravity-flow system, something that Pinot Noir likes very much.

All of this leads me back to the climate, the soil, the vineyard and the growing season. Though Burgundy and the Willamette Valley are on the same parallel, they do not share weather patterns often. In fact, Oregon is dry and warm for most of the summer, while Burgundy has frequent rain and sometimes bouts of hail. . . .Also, the soils are quite different. In Burgundy, you find chalky, sometimes sandy limestone soils, while in the Dundee Hills, volcanic, iron-rich soils are common. Within these broad descriptions, there are many layers to discover. . .

. . .We have also planted in a high-density manner in Oregon, which was something new for the region when we started working here."

She mentioned everything but clones. So who really knows?

Best.

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Reply by zufrieden, Dec 22, 2009.

Thanks for the extensive and informative commentary on the interactions between soil, climate, grape (even clonal) selection and viniculture. I was hoping someone would share their thoughts and experience on this somewhat technical subject. I agree with almost all of your salient points and recognize that we still don't really know for sure what the independent effect of clonal selection is on wine outcomes.

It also seems that most Burgundian growers of Pinot Noir use mass selections (many mutations and clones) in their vineyards as opposed to vine stock descending from a single cutting. This differs from the American experience where growers have bragged of taking superior cuttings from a Grand Cru vineyard and using them to establish some New World incarnation of Romanée-Conti. But can we tell to what degree this mono-selection affects the flavor profile?

As you hinted in your discussion, we may be out of luck with respect to an answer to this question until some kind of controlled experiment over a number of vintages is performed.

Nice commentary.

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 1, 2010.

Was recently informed that Gamay Beaujolais, used in California and New Zealand, is supposedly an early-ripening clone of Pinot noir. It was supposedly brought to California by Paul Masson, though I don't know if it went from there to New Zealand or the Kiwis got it directly from France. I remember having some of it from the Paul Masson label back when I was a student. It wasn't my favorite though I have since come to like many Beauolais from France very much, starting with Rodet's Beaujolais Nouveau back in the '70s and quickly moving up to other appelations in the region. I had been assuming that the gamay beaujolais in CA was just a poorly done version of the French gamay from the region named Beaujolais.

So what's the story? Is the gamay beaujolais in CA from the gamay in France or some obscure pinot noir clone? I wasn't aware that gamay itself was considered any kind of clone of pinot noir, though assumed the two varietals were some sort of relatives with an intertwined history in Burgundy. I also knew that 'Napa Gamay' which used to appear on labels in that valley but has since been banned was in fact Valdeguié. Also that the 'Gamay du Rhône' I've encountered before in France is not the Beaujolais gamay, either, but Abouriou.

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Reply by gregt, Jan 1, 2010.

According to the genetics work that Carol Meredith and others did, `Pinot' and `Gouais blanc' were at separate times the parents of several well known grapes like Chardonnay, Gamay noir, Melon, as well as many others that are less well-known. So those are all siblings and offspring of Pinot. Gouais Blanc was probably the mother for these.

The Pinot color variants are mutations of the Pinot grape.

Whatever they have in CA may be anything really. What Masson thought he was bringing, what he actually was sold, and what the people who sold it to him thought they were selling are three completely different possibilities that may have intersected but may not have.

zufriedens question about the mono-clonal selection in vineyards is a great one and people are actually talking about it more often. I don't know but I think we'll find more intentional variance in vineyard plantings in the near future.

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 1, 2010.

I've personally been in more discussions about clones involving other varietals than pinot noir itself, though I have been aware of the quite large number of pinot clones (twice as many clones just in France itself as for cabernet sauvignon, and I think the guess is that there are more than 20 times as many clones of pinot outside France than are recognized in Burgundy...), and the intensity of discussion about them among growers and winemakers. And that the grape is often described as biologically 'primitive', easily prone to mutation, etc. I guess I've just been too lazy to make an effort to get on top of this relatively esoteric subject. Or rather haven't personally felt the need, yet, to prioritize it.

That being said, I have been aware of some differences in choice of clonals between the New World and Burgundy. My read of Zufrieden's intent is to try to clarify all the factors in the differences between bottles of pinot from Sonoma, Willamete and the Cote d'Or (or New Zealand's South Island, Monterey, Santa Barbara, wherever), and that since 'terroir', etc. is not enough clonals must play an important role. Can someone provide a clonal explanation that will serve as a silver bullet to bullseye these differences (how's that for mixed metaphors)?

I guess to start we need to put up a listing of the clones that are being used by whom, where. I'll toss in the little I know, which is that there are some 50 different clones recognized in France, and that The French Etablissement National Technique pour l’Amelioration de la Viticulture (ENTAV) has established a program to select the best clones there, leading to a number of tweaks and use of different clones than those from the past. Willamette, on the other hand, seems to be reaching some of its peaks with older clones such as Pommard and Wadensvil.

Does anyone know specifically what growers (ideally with connection to specific winemakers) in the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Santa Barbara, etc. are using which clones? Ditto the question for the finest of the Côte de Nuits? Not sure I want to spend the next several hours (or even days) googling scores of wineries and dozens of scientific papers....

And Greg, is Aligote that 'lesser known'? Hey, it created the necessity for the invention of the Kir! ;-)

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Reply by zufrieden, Jan 2, 2010.

Kir - that interesting concoction that (I hear) saved France from white wine boredom under German occupation! As a short digression from the discussion of clones, I have never had much love for Aligoté but mixed with Crème de Cassis, it is passable...

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 2, 2010.

I agree, zufrieden. A waste of good champagne to use the cassis for a Kir Royale (though it does help a poor Cava), I feel, but it is an aligote's saving grace....

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Reply by gregt, Jan 3, 2010.

dmucker - it's one of them. Of the crosses between the two, Gouais Blanc is the mother of:
Aligoté
Auxerrois
Bachet
Chardonnay
Franc Noir
Gamay Noir
Melon
Romorantin
Sacy

Pinot is the mother of:
Aubin Vert
Knipperlé
Roublot.

I don't know much about clones at all but I did a little write-up about some chardonnay for my tasting group. I'll send it on and see if Greg wants to put it up as an article.

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 6, 2010.

Well, Greg, a timely post. Looks like you just beat the NYT Science page to the punch:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/05/s...

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Reply by fibo86, Jan 6, 2010.

oh oh will do some research and ask some questions re: clones and let you know about some of the more popular clones used here in Australia as a couple in the article I have heard of our more popular wineries using.

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Reply by gregt, Jan 6, 2010.

dmcker - now that's funny.

I wonder if they did any of their story research on Snooth?

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 6, 2010.

Yeah, it was a pretty skimpily-researched, rushed-looking short piece. Even I knew more about the grape than what was in the article (such as its purported Balkan origins, etc.). So maybe it was a rushed-off filler stimulated by a view here and then a quick search for recent research. Or just a weak writeup from a press release sent out about that research by Hunt & Lawes at Cambridge. Hard to tell, but either way it was a mite shallow for what I might expect from the Times.

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Reply by gregt, Jan 6, 2010.

Times are hard dude. They don't have money to pay for extensive research any more. It's that damned internet. I think that's going to be really big . . .

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 6, 2010.

Not even an extra 15' research over that selfsame Net? Come on, now, it's just plain laziness, compounded perhaps by column-inch slot limitations.

The Internet definitely has mean loads more of lower quality info. But perhaps if some newspapers can find a better model to ensure their survivability column-inch limits might get less restrictive, too.

I know, wishful thinking on my part... ;-(

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Reply by fibo86, Jan 10, 2010.

Went over my notes and the only reference I could find was one for Croser (Petaluma's sparkling wine) he uses two types the D5 from what I can figure is a Dijon clone and 521 for sparkling wine from France.
Although this might help the question http://www.avia.org.au/pdf/Grapevin... page 17

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Reply by fibo86, Jan 10, 2010.

Also got table grapes and root stocks, quite interesting....although there is a disclaimer as I think the most recent info is from 2003.

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