Oregon Pinot Noir – Send In The Clones – A Simple Primer

24 Jun

Surely there are differences based on growing region, from the microclimate, to soil type, elevation, exposure, etc., but particularly the clonal selection within the vineyard plays a huge role in how the terroir is translated or expressed into what we perceive in the glass.

Many of the early Oregon vineyards were planted to the Pommard clone, the Wadenswil clone, and or the Coury clone of Pinot Noir.  The Pommard clone (4A, 5) was first introduced to North America in the 1940’s, from cuttings taken from Chateau de Pommard, the longest continuous vineyard in the Cote d’Or region of Burgundy.  The wines produced from these vines are valued for their deep pigmentation, concentrated fruit, marked spice, and velvety texture.  This clone lends itself both to be a blending component, or a stand-alone wine.

The Wadensvil clone (1A and 2A) was imported into the U.S. in the 1950’s from Wadensvil, Switzerland, and current estimates are that approximately 30% of the Pinot Noir vines in Oregon are the Wadensvil clone.  This vine performs well on sedimentary soils such as the Willakenzie, Laurelwood, and Carlton soils typical in the Ribbon Ridge and Chehalem Mountain AVAs, as well as in the areas north of the towns of Carlton and Yamhill.  The vines do tend toward over production, but with proper management and dropping of green clusters, will yield wines marked by bright red cherry fruit character, spice box, and floral aromas.  This clone excels as a component in blends, adding high end accents.

The Coury clone (4) is alleged to be a “suitcase” clone, supposedly smuggled into the states from Germany in the 1960’s by the late Charles Coury, who planted one of the first Pinot Noir vineyards in the Willamette Valley in the mid 1960s.  The black tea and spicy components that characterize this clone lend themselves to blends with the Wadensvil clone.

A large number of the Pinot Noir vineyards throughout Oregon and the United States are planted to Dijon clones.  According to many sources, Domaine Ponsot in Morey-St-Denis served as the original budwood source for these clones.  Introduced in North American in the late 1980’s, these clones generally tend toward early ripening, with fruit forward qualities and a general tendency to benefit from being blended in some combination rather than as monoclonal wines.

Below is a list of the Dijon clones, borrowed (with permission) from Alexana winery in the Dundee Hills of Oregon…

113 – typically seen as an aromatic component with very high-toned elements in the nose.  When properly managed, the wine can possess nice weight and body as well.  In comparison to clones 114 & 115, 113 is the highest yielding, with the largest clusters.

114 – sometimes overlooked despite the fact that it is very dark, soft, and rich, making it a great cohesive element to the final wine.  In comparison to clones 113 & 115, clone 114 is the lowest yielding, with the smallest clusters.

115 – reputedly favored in Burgundy for its production consistency.  The most
widely planted Dijon clone in North America due to its good perfume, rich texture, full flavors and notable red fruit characters.  Clone 115 works very well on its own.

La Tache (828) – delivers low yields with small berries marked by dense pigmentation. Currently experiencing a significant surge in planting similar to clone 115.  Reputed to produce very dark, rich wines.  Potentially appropriate to be produced on its own.

667 – offers inherent firmness, excellent aromatic complexity, and marked impressions of blackberry and plum.  Tannins are strong and often angular, contributing great cellaring potential.

777 – conveys up front black fruit flavors in a fairly tannic framework, adding age-worthy qualities in blending.  Below average production results in high quality fruit.

As the coverage of Oregon Pinot Noir on this blog continues, I hope to explore a series of wines and will seek to discern differences and similarities within the wines stemming from particular clonal selections, as well as AVA, winemaking styles, and terroir.

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