Today, June 30, 2018, we celebrate the life and work of Dr Harold Olmo, the pioneering prince of Pinot Noir. It was Olmo who took back the very first rootstock clone, from Château de Pommard, and took i
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.”