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Make Mine Dijon Please

Pinot Noir clones are genetically identical plants taken from a single mother vine cutting or bud. Pinot Noir selections (also called field or mass selections) are sourced from a vine that has multiple different parent vines. As the French love to point out, all Pinot Noir clones and selections planted in North America came from France. The original clones planted in California and Oregon are so called “mother” clones (often now referred to as heritage clones) and suitcase clones.

The true history and source of many of the mother clones is shrouded in mystery. Many of the European cuttings of mother clones were brought to California in the 1850s and 1860s. Agoston Haraszthy traveled to Europe, including Burgundy in 1861, and brought back many vine cuttings, but it is unlikely he was the first to bring Pinot Noir to the New World. The Mt Eden clone was brought to California from Burgundy by Paul Masson in the 1890s. Louis Latour’s father supposedly gave him cuttings from Corton and Corton Charlemagne. Chalone would later purchase grape scion from Martin Ray who later owned Paul Masson’s vineyard, as did Dr. Stanley Hoffman for the HMR Vineyard in Paso Robles, and Dr. David Bruce in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In the early 1980s, Merry Edwards sent cuttings from a single Mt Eden vine to University of California Davis where it was named UCD 37. The Jackson clones (UCD 9,16) originated from experimental plantings in the town of Jackson in the Sierra Nevada region of California. The Wente clone/ selection is probably many clonal selections from early plantings in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County. The Swan clone (UCD 97) is a Pommard selection probably sourced from Burgundy. It was planted by Joseph Swan in the early 1970s. Most of Dehlinger’s Estate Vineyard is Swan clone. The Pommard clone (UCD 4,5,6) originated from cuttings Professor Harold Olmo imported from Chateau de Pommard in the 1940s. Olmo also developed the Martini clone (along with Louis Martini) from vine cuttings taken from Inglenook and subsequently planted at the Stanly Ranch in Carneros (UCD 13,15). The Wädenswil clone (UCD 1A,2A,3A) was imported from Switzerland in the 1950s. The Mariafeld clone (UCD 17,23) also came from Switzerland. Roederer clones (UCD 32,33,41) were introduced in 1984 after importation from Champagne. (The complete details of clonal history are confusing to say the least. John Haeger , author of North American Pinot Noir, does the best job of attempting to unravel the story.)

Suitcase clones are cuttings that have been smuggled into the United States wrapped in wet newspaper and hidden in suitcases. There are many stories of the illicit importation of cuttings from Domaine Romanee- Conti and some are undoubtedly true (Calera, Swan, Rochioli, Pisoni). Because of the illegality of such smuggling, the true extent of suitcase clones planted in North America will never be known.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the heritage clones were the workhorses in Pinot Noir vineyards in Oregon and California. An event in 1984, however, dramatically changed the course of Pinot Noir winegrowing in the United States. Dr. David Heatherbell, Professor of Enology at Oregon State University, convinced Dr. Raymond Bernard of France to share his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones with Oregon. Bernard had been at work at the Dijon office of the French Ministry of Agriculture since the 1960s, selecting clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that would improve the quality of wines in Burgundy. The laboratory technicians at Oregon State University nicknamed the imported cuttings “Dijon clones” after the return address on the shipping container, and the name has become part of viticulture lexicon and widely accepted. Most of the original budwood (for example, 113, 114, 115) came from Domaine Ponsot in Morey-St.-Denis. There are now nearly 50 recognized clones of Pinot Noir in Dijon, France, 15 of which are significantly propagated. There may be as many as 1000 clones of Pinot Noir world wide (Cabernet Sauvignon, in contrast, has only 12 identifiable clones).

The planting of Dijon clones in Oregon and California took off in the 1990s. “Make mine Dijon please” became the catch phrase. The Dijon clones became quickly popular because of their smaller berry size, resulting in more intense colors and tannins and darker tones in their aromatics and flavors. Because the clones ripened earlier, they were ideally matched to the marginal sites so desirable for growers of Pinot Noir. Clone 115 has become the most widely planted. Multiple Dijon clones are often blended and still other Dijon clones can make a complete wine on their own (for example 777). Heritage clones are also frequently blended with Dijon clones. Many winemakers are high on Dijon clones, but others are saddened to see the de-emphasis on heritage clones, pointing out the diverse and unique nuances that only they bring to Pinot Noir. Pommard, for example, has a meaty/gamey edge to its plumy fruits.

If there is one thing we have learned in the last 10-15 years, it is that the proper clones must be planted on the appropriate site. In some vineyards, heritage clones perform better than Dijon clones and vice versa. As John Haeger said, “The ’best’ clones can never compensate for a poor site, nor will ’wrong’ clones completely obscure the potential of a great site.”

Each of the Dijon clones has distinguishing aromatic, flavor, structural and tannic profiles. Some generalizations may be helpful in understanding why certain clones are blended or bottled on their own. The “teens” clones (113,114,115,116,117) are lighter, brighter and more forward with typically more red fruits (cherry, raspberry). 667 and 777 are darker, fleshier, more structured with emphasis on black fruits (black raspberry, black cherry, cola, spice). The newest clones, 828 and 943, have only been in the ground a couple of years.

113 (1971): most elegant of teen series with prominent floral aromatic components, terrific texture, extractable but slightly masked tannins (114 and 115 have more power)

114 (1971): dark color, rich aroma, good structure, tannic

115 (1971): purplish, superior aromas, good structure, notable tannins, long and will age; can make an excellent and complete wine on its own.

375 (1974): average color, quality aromas, elegant

667 (1980): a workhorse clone; good color, hi-tone aromas, ripe black sweet fruit, fleshy, firmness, thick but soft tannins

777 (1981): more consistent than 667; very aromatic, denser and complex with earthy notes, black fruit, cherry, cassis, leather, tobacco; almost Cabernet-like.

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