By Rick Riozza
With the ever great and growing popularity of Pinot Noir, it seems that almost every pinot producer, not only in the Pacific states but around the world, is a “star” to be reckoned with, and, the competition to sell it all is on!
In Burgundy, the indigenous ancestral home of pinot noir (pinot is Red Burgundy) they’ve been producing great wine for over 1000 years! And over 2000 years ago, even the Roman’s realized, on their campaigns into Gaul (France), they had no need to tote their own delicious wine from the homeland: the pinot growing about was so good.
Wine enthusiasts continue to wax poetic when it comes to Pinot Noir. “It’s like dancing with a beautiful and elegant woman.” “The Pinot has a pretty robe, glistening and shimmering like a cat’s eye, sparkling like a diamond.” “The most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, it makes the blood run hot.” “It’s sensuous, often erotic, above rational discourse, and beyond measured criticism.” “it’s sex in a glass, so seductive, it’s hard to say no…” Geez!—no wonder everyone is attempting to cultivate this stuff!
But take caution too! As wine-geek Miles, in the 2004 wine-tasting-movie of all time, Sideways, voices, “It’s a hard grape to grow…thin skinned, temperamental, ripens early…it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention…it can grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who takes time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.”
Okay! okay!—by now we should all be quaffing down my favorite, your favorite, and your neighbor’s favorite pinot just to get through this article. Plus we might get a little “geeky” ourselves, so a little or a lot of wine may help us traipse through the galaxy of the Pinot Noir vineyards.
To a savvy wine crowd, or to the energetic new wine-loving millennials in the group, one can already deduce that all of the pinot noir in California and Oregon is one way or another from France. For those still waxing poetic (and still under the influence of your pinot) you can probably go on with this tale as “romancing the clones” should you not like the more aggressive title I gave this piece.
Like many agricultural fruits, grape vines are grown from cuttings of other vines, not from seeds. A grape clone is just a family of genetically related plants grown up from a single vine — actually a single bud. Clones are genetically identical cuttings of mother vines (or if you prefer: Pinot—I am your father), selected for their particular idiosyncrasies. Thus, clones matter to how pinot noir becomes a wine.
We’ve heard how difficult pinot is to grow on its own, let alone attempting to re-locate it to another continent! Bonne Chance! And—of course!—pinot noir notoriously mutates. One vine in a patch of pinot noir may resist diseases that affect the vine next to it; another vine may produce looser-bunched berries than its neighbors’ typical tight bunches of pinot noir.
These differences matter to vineyard owners and winemakers for many reasons, including; climate worries, wine style preferences, soil type to desired ripening time. As a result, for many years pinot noir has been selected for planting and winemaking according to its clone.
Keeping it simple, Pacific coastal areas were found to be the best place to nurture a pinot vine because of the combination sun, soil and the night cooling soft winds. California and Oregon therefor had to “romance” particular pinot clones in Burgundy that would simply love and adore our terroir.
For the wine tasting clique, modestly knowing of the Dijon and Pommard names, for some popular clones, more than suffices understanding the more serious names and numbers given to the myriads of clones in our vineyards.
What can be of real interest to you enthusiasts, is that some tried and true pinot clones—which provide the flavor profile you particularly like, are often times listed on the back label of the bottle. And this little knowledge can perhaps assist your pinot choices when faced with a hundred labels at the market.
Below is a quick general description of what aromas, textures or flavors different pinot clones sport.
When you see the “Pommard” clone on the label or ad description, think of earth, dried mushroom, and cherry pie aromas and flavors. The wine is medium-bodied soft tannins. A lot of Oregon Pinot Noir utilizes this one, thus a more French/Burgundian flair than the California styles. Clone 5 has a meaty/gamey edge to it.
2A, also known as Wadenswil clone, will show a cherry, raspberry, and/or a rose petal nose and palate; medium body and medium to firm tannins.
The Dijon clones include:
113: Look for plum, cherry, raspberry, and cedar; with lighter medium weight and firm tannins. This maybe the most elegant with perfumed aromatics.
114: pomegranate, blueberry, mineral, cola, spice; with medium to full body, moderate tannins. The most widely planted clone.
115: rose petal, red cherry, black raspberry, sometimes leather or anise and a touch of earth; medium to full body, soft tannins. This one is becoming very popular.
667: dark cherry, strawberry, black tea, warm earth, Christmas spice; medium body, soft tannins.
777: black cherry, cassis, blackberry, licorice, sometimes leather or tobacco; full body, medium tannins. Another one that’s surging for its very rich and dark profile. Some “fear’ this one as being “un-pinot-like”
Sounds like pinot envy! Cheers!