Oregon Pinot – All the Same???

23 Jan

Everyone has their favorite wines.  Some of these are based on the country of origin or the particular viticultural regions in which the grapes are grown, some are based on varietal.  I really enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

While Cabernet Sauvignon’s flavor profile varies based on where it is grown and how it is treated in the vineyard, it only has a little more than a dozen clones for the vineyard manager and winemaker to choose from.  Pinot Noir is just as sensitive to growing region and how it is cropped, but Pinot Noir has a couple of hundred clones; more if you include the non-red clones (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, etc.).  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 a glass of Pinot Noir when there are so many clonal options.

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.

Tous Droit (UCDavis 18) is one of a group of Pinot noir selections that have been known as the Gamay Beaujolais type, which are characterized by high vigor and an upright growth habit.  All five selections in this group were derived from the same single vine source at UC Davis.

A large number of the Pinot Noir vineyards throughout 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.

There are as many opinions of the optimal blend (or not) of clones in a vineyard and in a bottling as there are bottles on shelves.  I have found that careful consideration by both the vineyard manager and the winemaker makes all the difference.

The more I strive to learn about what is in the bottle of wine I am drinking, the more I realize that there is as much art as there is science, and that there are so many more details to be considered than most people realize.

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