No Clue about Clones

Elise StimacBlog article, Growing, VineyardLeave a Comment

A branch of Pinot Noir vine, during it's full growth phase at Three Feathers Estate.
Three Feathers Pinot Noir post-harvest
A branch of Pinot Noir Pommard cultivar during it’s full growth phase

No Clue about Clones

It is common knowledge that the wine grape, Vitis vinifera, has many different varietals; Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot to name a few.  But many people are not aware that there are many cultivars within each varietal family.

The Pinot grape, now known to be one of the oldest varieties, has several different family members: Pinot Noir, the red varietal, Pinot Blanc, the white, Pinot Gris, a pale red grape, Pinot Meunier.  Additionally, each varietal has many different “clones”, or sub species. These plants are created by taking cuttings from a mother vine so as to be genetically identical to the mother plant – thus cloned – and most often grafted onto a rootstock to protect against disease.

The Clone Short Story

Excerpt from our previous article A Tale of Two Vineyards

The phylloxera story is a cross-viticultural one that intimately links France and the United States from a rootstock perspective. Exchange between France and the Oregon is at the root of vine planting in this State since the mid-1800’s when early Oregon vineyards were planted on their own roots, before the arrival of phylloxera, by European settlers. This contrasts with European vineyards, where all wine grapes have been necessarily grafted onto Phylloxera-resistant rootstocks since the nineteenth century. Since phylloxera was discovered in Oregon in 1990, most new vineyards have been planted on phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. Agricultural engineers without borders, in true botanical spirit, have been sharing, comparing, grafting and testing since ocean transportation made it possible way back when….

In the early 1960’s, only one virus free University-certified Pinot Noir clone was available in the United States, brought to the University California Davis from Burgundy although certified in Wädenswil, Switzerland – UCD 1A / 2A.  This particular clone, first planted in Oregon in 1965 by David Lett, won international acclaim in 1975 with his Eyrie Vineyards South Block Reserver Pinot Noir.  In the 1970’s, only a small selection of clones were available to Oregon growers; Wädenswil, Pommard and Coury “clones”, however newer clones were being produced in France.  Oregon growers obtained an import permit from the USDA via Oregon State University with mitigated results. 

Finally, in 1984, Dr. Raymond Bernard (a Burgundian clone developer who knew David Lett) sent Pinot Noir clones 113, 114, 115 and later in 1988, clones 667 and 777 to Oregon State University where they were labeled “Dijon clones”, after the return address on the shipping container.  They are now known as the “Dijon clones” and originate from plants that grew in the vineyards of Jean-Marie Ponsot of Morey-Saint-Denis.  Dr. Bernard’s donation of high-quality and varied cuttings contributed significantly to the success of Oregon’s wine industry.

Clones at Three Feathers

A black and white still life of a cluster of Pinot Noir, Pommard clone, during it's full growth phase at Three Feathers Estate.
Leaf and grapes pre-veraison on a Pommard cultivar

The selection of clones for the production of Pinot Noir combined with the soils, micro-climate and growing strategy create the flavor profile of Oregon wines.  It is difficult to generalize about Pinot Noir clones except when comparing them under similar growing conditions (ie comparing clones grown in the same AVA).

At Three Feathers we grow only Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. We grow only one clone of Pinot Gris, but we grow several cultivars of Pinot Noir; Pommard, Précoce and Dijon clones numbered 115, 667, 777 and 828 (the latest Dijon clone to appear in Oregon). The reason for this is that each clone has its own unique characteristics. Different ripening times, size of cluster, fruitfulness, drought tolerance, flavors.  Even the vines themselves show subtle differences in the shape and size of the leaves and how they grow.

Some clones make good wine by themselves and others are better blended or put into a Cuvée (a blend) with other clones. For example, a Pommard is known for its fullness and depth of flavor but it is slower ripening than the Précoce which is remarkable for ripening as much as two weeks before the other clones.

We have had good success making a single clone wine with our block of 667.  This clone, when grown in Laurelwood soil, produces a peppery flavor and a complexity of fruit and herbal flavors that stand alone.  When we combine it with Dijon clones to make our Cuvée, we get deeper colors and more floral notes with less acidity.

Eventually, as all of our vines produce to their full potential, we will have many choices for our wine making and we will continue to explore the Pinot possibilities.

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