Clonal selection in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

So, what is a clone anyway, and why do we care? Basically, a clone is a higher-tech propagation of a particular vine, creating a specific subdivision of the varietal. Pinot Noir, being one of the oldest varietals in the world, also mutates more easily than most others, so it has more clones than any other grape variety. But clones have only been the subject of extreme focus in the relatively recent past. In the 1960s and '70s, the vines that were planted were field selections, where growers took buds from their favorite vineyards and propagated them.

Old Wente clones were the standard for Chardonnay early on, and Beringer and Martini were the first widely planted Pinot clones. While we've experimented with many new options, in our Chardonnay vineyards we tend to like the older selections. For Pinot, we've transitioned to newer clones in California, and have rarely gone back. But since we've been growing Pinot for still wine here for only a short time, the jury is still out on what will be best in the long run. Below is a quick rundown of some of the more prevalent clones in the appellation, especially those in our vineyards.



Chardonnay Clones

Old Wente Clone (Mill Station) - The granddaddy, with generally lemon characters, high acidity, small clusters with small, shot berries in the bunch, fairly thick skins, and low yields. Popular offshoots from Wente are Hyde (from Carneros, with more apple flavors, planted at our Morelli Lane Vineyard), Rued (a tropical-like Chardonnay-Muscato variation, from our Rued Vineyard), See's, Robert Young and Raffo.

Clones 4 and 5 - Looking to improve on a good thing by creating a virus-free version, UC Davis developed Clones 4 and 5, which had bigger bunches, lower acidity, higher yields, good consistency in the vineyard, but less personality. Other popular UCD clones were 108, 15 and 17.

Dijon 76, 95 and 96 (we have a trial at Mill Station) - In the early 1990s, imports from France also came into the area and were fairly widely planted. These Dijon clones have lots of richness, lower acidity, and are fairly fast ripening, so they tend to do best in our coldest areas where the growing season can be extended.

Pinot Noir Clones

Beringer/Martini - The earliest selections in the area, with high-toned floral aromatics, black raspberry flavors, fairly hard tannins, and slow ripening seeds.

Dijon 113, 114 (McDougall), 115 (Freestone) - The first Dijon series, with different treatments to protect against viruses. Tend to give bright berry fruit, have relatively thin skins, and lose acidity easily.

Dijon 667, 777 (Galante) - Small, round clusters that produce very deeply colored wines with broad, soft lush tannins. In our Galante vineyard, 667 shows more crystalline berry fruit, while 777 is fatter and plummier. Both have more lush tannins than 115, but we love the aromatics from 115.

Dijon 828 (Manzana) - One of the newest Dijons, it's noted for its large, long and skinny clusters; retains acidity well. It's deeply colored, with focused, sweet berry fruit flavors.

Pommard (Galante, Green Valley) - Another import from Burgundy, with oblong berries that have high tannins, thick skins, and plummy flavors. Resists rot very well.

While we like to talk about clones, and they are an important part of grape growing, by far the most important factor is the site. With all the options available now, the key is matching the right clone to that spot, and then creating a nice mix of these different characters in the final wine, as each clone brings something to the party.