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Romancing the Dijon Clones

All Pinot Noir clones planted in North American originally came from France. In the early 1970s, three Pinot Noir clones were available from University of California at Davis: Pommard (UCD 4), Wädenswil and a third minor clone mislabeled as Gamay Beaujolais. According to Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards, the Wädenswil clone was a selection done by the Swiss Federal Research Station in Wädenswil, Switzerland in the 1950s from ancient clones brought to the Zurich area by Swiss mercenaries who fought for the King of France in the Burgundian Wars of the 1470s. The Wädenswil clone was selected for its excellent ripening in a cool climate and natural disease resistance, qualities that contributed to its success in Oregon. David Lett brought a carload of Wädenswil 1A clone cuttings from the University of California at Davis (who imported it from Switzerland) to Oregon in 1965. Pommard clone UCD 5 was introduced to Oregon by Dick Erath and Charles Coury as part of their joint nursery venture in the early 1970s. The Pommard clone was originally sourced from the Château de Pommard in Burgundy by Dr. Harold Olmo at University of California at Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology. Dick Erath and Charles Coury brought the Pommard clone to Oregon in the early 1970s. Subsequently, Coury sold some vines from his nursery that he had brought to the United States from Alsace as Pommard, and they became known in Oregon as the "Coury clone." After these vines were planted, it became clear within a few years that the "Coury clone" was not Pommard.

Oregon Pinot Noirs of the 1970s were often a blend of Pommard UCD 5, Wädenswil and the Coury clone. The workhorse Pinot Noir clones in California then were Pommard, and what are now termed “heritage clones,” most of which were originally suitcase clones smuggled into the United States from France. The eventual importation of Dijon clones of Pinot Noir to Oregon was to dramatically changed the course of Pinot Noir winegrowing in the United States.

Winemaker and winery proprietor John M. Kelly (Westwood Winery, Sonoma, www.winemakernotesblog.com), related to me some of the historical events that transpired leading to the discovery of the Dijon clones of Pinot Noir. Kelly spent a day with Dr. Raymond Bernard of the University of Dijon back in the late 1990s in his experimental vineyard in the Hautes Côtes near Beaune. The vineyards in the Côte d’Or in the 1950s were performing poorly due to viral infestation, late harvests, and susceptibility to rot and the vignerons in Burgundy were dissatisfied with the quality of their wines. Bernard and other researchers of the time conceived the idea of “clonal selection,” that is, taking buds from vines showing no evidence of viral disease and possessing desirable characteristics to create “mother” vines. These mother vines would be then be used to established new healthy vineyards and thereby improve the quality of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines in Burgundy.

Initially, Bernard’s ideas were scorned by many vignerons in Burgundy and he was forced to use his own money and resources to conduct experimental research in a vineyard in the Hautes Côtes. One vigneron who did support Bernard was Jean-Marie Ponsot, who offered budwood from his Clos de la Roche vines in Morey- St.-Denis as a source of material for Bernard’s early clonal trials. These cuttings provided the source for Dijon clones 113, 114 and 115, among others. Bernard looked for diversity in the growth habit of healthy vines as well as differences in the size and shape of clusters. With time, he expanded his research, obtaining cuttings from many vineyards in the Côte d’Or and beyond, and not only planted vines in his experimental vineyard, but also in the vineyards of Lycée Viticole De Beaune (seat of learning for viticulture and vinification for the wine industry of Burgundy).

By the 1960s, Bernard had received the support of the French Ministry of Agriculture and other professional societies in France leading to increased funding of his research. Bernard became the regional director of the Office National Interprofessional des Vins (ONIVINS), the French National Wine Office. At the time Kelly toured Bernard’s experimental vineyards, over 100 individual clonal selections of Pinot Noir and nearly that number of Chardonnay clonal selections were being developed.

In 1984, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard in Oregon and Dr. David Heatherbell, Professor of Enology at Oregon State University persuaded Dr. Bernard to share some of his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones with Oregon which arrived in 1987 and 1988. The laboratory technicians at Oregon State University nicknamed the imported cuttings, “Dijon clones,” after the return address on the shipping container. The name has now become part of viticulture lexicon. These registered Burgundy clones included Pinot Noir 113, 114, 115, 667, 777 and Chardonnay 76, 95 and 96. Several years later, French Dijon clones of Pinot Noir were also introduced to California through Foundation Plant Material Services (FPS) at the University of California at Davis and through various nurseries.

Today, there are about 43 certified Dijon clones of Pinot Noir in the Catalogue of Grapevine Varieties and Clones published by ENTAV-INRA® (L’Establissement National Technique pour l’Ameléioration de la Viticulture/Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France), and 15 are significantly propagated throughout the world as suitable for Pinot Noir still wine. There are probably anywhere from 200 to over a 1,000 genetically unique Pinot Noir clones, a reflection of Pinot Noir’s genetic instability. The ENTAV-INRA® trademarked clones are registered and assigned a unique certification number by ONIVINS after approval by the Committee of Selection of Cultivated Plants of the French Ministry of Agriculture (CTPS). All plants with a unique certification number were propagated from the same parent mother vine and the origin and authenticity of the clones is guaranteed. As Kelly pointed out to me, the clonal numbers are not of any special significance other than an accession number as each new selection has been added to the Dijon collection.

Kelly has emphasized in his blog that each of the Dijon clones makes a different type of wine and each responds differently to the site in which they are planted. He noted, “In California the ENTAV-INRA clones do not produce the same wines they produce in Burgundy, nor do they produce wines here with the same characteristics that the heritage California selections do. The Dijon clones were selected for many traits but most significantly for their ability to ripen relatively early in the Côte d’Or. In California, this trait translates into a tendency toward very rapid sugar accumulation.”

Single Dijon clones do not usually make a complete wine. The exceptions are clone 115, and less often 777. Most Pinot Noirs in California and Oregon are a blend of three or more Dijon clones. The most widely planted Dijon clones are 113, 114, 115, 459, 667, 777, 828 and 943, and the most popular combination for Pinot Noir is Combo #3 (115, 667 and 777). It is not unusual for Dijon clones to be blended with the Pommard clone, the Wädenswil clone, or one or several heritage clones (selections).

The use of Pinot Noir clones in new plantings have been in widespread use for over 30 years in California and Oregon, but are less often employed by the French, many of whom are firm adherents of selection massale (propagating new plant material from selected mother vines in the vineyard leading to vineyards with numerous different unidentified clones). A number of Burgundians now combine both clonal plantings and selection massale in new plantings.

What are the organoleptic characteristics of wines made from the different Pinot Noir Dijon clones? As noted clonal researcher Francis Mahoney has said, “Each clone makes a personality statement.” Only generalizations are possible, as wines made from single clones will vary greatly depending on the terroir in which they are grown, how they are farmed, when they are harvested, and how they are vinified. Winemakers who have experience with the different Dijon clones do report general differences among the clones, and I have distilled the comments from several including John Kelly and combined them with various reports in the wine literature to reach the following summary. I have also included some photographs of the various Dijon clones, but the different clones and berries are very difficult to distinguish by appearance alone. A while back I had searched for photographs of Pinot Noir clones and found very few examples. Michael Browne of Kosta Browne sent the photos below of five of the clones planted at Keefer Ranch in the Green Valley of the Russian River Valley. David Lloyd of Eldridge Estate in Victoria, Australia sent me photos of Dijon 115, 114, 777 and G5V15 grapes (known as Wädenswil in the U.S.).

It has been reported in the wine literature in recent years that the widespread planting of Dijon clones of Pinot Noir has led to a homogenization of Oregon and California Pinot Noir. Allen Meadows is a firm believer in this trend, but I will leave the discussion of this controversial subject for another time. My take on the whole issue is that heritage clones can potentially make more interesting and nuanced wines in California than Dijon clones, but not at every site where they are planted. Heritage clones are a mixed bag, with not every heritage clone (selection), for example, the Swan “clone,” the same, so it is a blurred issue. The heritage clones such as Swan, Calera and Mt. Eden, do not perform the same at every vineyard site, making the whole subject a vineyardist’s worst nightmare. Pinot Noir will not easily relinquish the title of the “heartbreak grape.”







Clone 113 1971. Small to average cluster, small berries, strong color, most elegant of the Dijon clones, high and uneven yields, variable quality.

Clone 114 1971. Small and compact cluster, small berries, very dark color, purple hue, rich aroma, good structure, tannic, classic Pinot Noir flavors of black cherry and spice, inconsistent from site to site, can be soft, forward and lovely or thin and hard. Shows precocious ripening with potential for higher degree of alcohol.

Clone 115 1971. Most widely planted. Smaller, tighter cluster, little hand grenades, regular yields, strong purplish color, high anthocyanin, high pH, round, rich and supple, notable tannins, varietally consistent aromatic profile of black cherries, leather and roses, exotic flavors of cherries, blueberries, boysenberries and anise, age able. Can make an excellent and complete wine on its own and is valued for its balance and aromatic profile. Consistent from different locations. Bernard told Kelly that year after year wines made at the Lycée Viticole from clone 115 placed at or near the top of their evaluations until clone 943 came along.

Clone 375 1974. Average cluster, compact, small to average berries, quality aroma, elegant and supple, limited age ability.

Clone 459 Very little information. Sparsely planted in North America.

Clone 667 1980. Big, tight compact cluster about the same size as 777, strong color, hi-tone and quality aromas, dark cherry, raspberry, strawberry, spice flavors, fleshy, firm, angular, thick but soft tannin. Variable quality depending on the site varying from green apple simplicity in warm sites where it accumulates sugar too quickly to deep Christmas spice mix (allspice, nutmeg, clove) in cooler sites. A workhorse structural clone, often de-stemmed.

Clone 777 1981. Small, compact cluster, small berries, low-yielding, strong and intense color due to thick skins and higher seed count, very aromatic with dense and complex black fruit flavors (black cherry, cassis), with leather, tobacco, and earthy notes. Can be a powerful, monster of a wine almost Cabernet-like if not carefully farmed. Highly structured with tannin structure to age. Tannins are exaggerated in warm locations where sugar accumulates quickly, even more so than clone 667. More consistent than clone 667 and similar in character to clone 115.

Clone 828 Little planted in North America, so information is mainly anecdotal. 828 was never certified for release in the United States because of issues with Redglobe virus. According to John Winthrop Haeger (North American Pinot Noir), Gary Andrus at Archery Summit imported cuttings from La Tache that were designated ASW2 and between 1997 and 2001, other wineries and growers in Oregon and California took cuttings of these vines and some was redistributed by nurseries. The selection became known as Dijon 828, but as Haeger notes, "Is almost certainly not." 828 remains in quarantine at University of California at Davis and has not officially been released by ENTAV in North America. Archery Summit has extensive plantings of ASW2 in their Renegrade Ridge, Red Hills and Looney vineyards which Haeger states, "Gives intensely flavored fruit with good color especially in marginal growing conditions." Small bunches and small to medium berries, dense color, low pH, high sugar production with earlier maturity than some clones. Possesses a fruit-forward character of blackberry and plum.

Clone 943 Very small berries (among the smallest of all the Dijon clones), low seed counts, small clusters (smaller than clones 115 and 777), more open bunches, low yields, higher sugar content, intense flavors of red berry fruit. John Kelly reported that when he visited Bernard, he told him 943 was his favorite clone and that wines from clone 943 came out at the top of the tastings at the Lycée Viticole every year. One of the few Dijon clones where the French negotiated a royalty payment for every bud sold in the U.S. Kelly’s reaction after making wine from clone 943 in two vintages was enthusiastic. “The wines are dark, but elegant, and softer than wines from the other clones, perhaps due to the lower seed count. The aromas are amazing, ethereal unlike any of the other wines, and when I stick my nose in the wines, the pleasure centers in my brain light up with “PINOT,” yes, in all caps. That said, I would not make a stand-alone wine from clone 943 because the resultant wines would be too soft for my palate.”

Kelly is a firm believer in using blends of Dijon clones in Pinot Noir. “From an optimistic (winemaker’s) viewpoint, the elements that each of the Dijon clones can bring to a blend will make a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts. From a more pessimistic (grower’s) perspective, working with a mix of clones is a hedge against any one of them failing in a particular vintage. Any way you shake it, clonal blends are a win-win.”

The subject of Dijon Pinot Noir clones, or are any general discussion of clones for that matter, is amazingly complex. For those who wish to investigate the subject in more detail, I would suggest the following excellent references: North American Pinot Noir, John Winthrop Haeger; Clones of Classic Varieties: The Pinot Noir Portfolio, Nick Hoskins and Geoff Thorpe, www.riversun.co.nz (includes ENTAV-INRA® photos of clones); Catalogue of Grapevine’s Varieties and Clones Cultivated in France, available in English, www.oeno.tm.fr/librairie/Collection/Viticulture/Clones/ClonesSomm.en.html

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