Attack of the clones
One of my favorite interactive sessions at the Wine Bloggers Conference was a component tasting of clonal selections of Pinot Noir, hosted by Erath Winery. As a wine geek, I love tasting each piece of the puzzle that makes up a final blend; in the case of Oregon Pinot Noir, it is frequently the case that a specific vineyard block is planted to more than one clone. What is also true is that blocks might be clone specific but the final wine is a blend of those clones.
First, a bit about Erath. Erath Winery was established in 1967, with it’s first vintage in 1972. They were one of the early pioneers in the Willamette Valley. They were, in fact, the first winery in the Dundee Hills AVA, focused on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Piot Blanc. Dick Erath was inspired to create wine in 1965 after some garagiste experiments After leaving an engineering career behind, he attended UC Davis, and relocated to Oregon in 1968. In 1969, Erath planted the Dundee Hills’ first vineyards, with 23 varieties With Pinot Noir flourishing, he had producted his first commercial vintage in 1972. While the original plantings were from his Davis roots and California bred clones, he watned to experiment with French clones, and imported them to Oregon in 1974. Today, Erath uses Pommard, 115, and 777 clones to create world class Pinot Noir.
Now, let’s look at each of the Pinot Noir clones that were part of our tasting. Of course, there are many more clones used in Oregon, but Erath focuses on these three. Grape clones are developed for specific reasons, flavor profiles, color, and body. There are Dijon clones, the Pommard clone, and the Wadinswil clone, widely usd in Oregon. Erath uses three clones for their wines, 115, 777 and Pommard. All of the clones and the blended wine resulting from them are from Prince Hill Vineyard, in the Dundee Hills.
The Pommard clone has become most widely known as the distinct Oregon style. Pommard is often used alone, while the Dijon clones are classically blended. Pommard gives Pinot NOir powerful fruit notes, spicebox and a rich body. In the 2009 Prince Hill Pommard Clone, the oldest vines on the property are used. The bright classic cherry flavors were obvious, with earth hiding underneath. I loved this wine, with the bright acid and root beer notes, and a touch of herbal notes. I really enjoyed this single clone, however, I found it lacking in some interest with just the Pommard.
Dijon clone 115 can have vegetal flavors, with rose petals edges. It is a deep colored grape, with rich aromas and red fruit flavors. With the strong tannins it’s a good choice for a wine you plan to age long. The 2009 Prince Hill 115 Clone Pinot Noir had lovely earth, and dark red fruit with a bit of a nutty finish. This clone brings cedar and earth, and adds a nice backbone.
Clone 777 also has more earthly vegetative flavors, with the classic mushroom and forest floor notes. True to Erath’s restrained style the 2009 Price Hill 777 Clone has strong aromas of perfume and flowers, with mushrooms, brown sugar and figs followed by rich berry fruit. It’s a bolder style, with silky textures. The overwhelming note was strawberry, and this is the clone that brings the fruit tot he party.
There can be up to 15 selections put together to make the final wine, the 2009 Prince Hill Pinot Noir. The backbone is the old vine Pommard, which brings the baking spice notes. The fruit comes slowly, building on Bing cherry, rhubarb and cranberry, with stewed fruit and meat at the end. There was a delicious umami note, with subtle, big red fruit. The finished product is a subtle, elegant wine full of cherry flavors with great acid, lighter in style with a touch of earth. The 15 months in 40% new French oak is a bold choice, but it is well integrated.
Componant tastings like these are fascinating since you can see what each single clone brings to the party. With so many other clones of Pinot Noir out there, it’s going to be a great study! Windsor Oaks Winery in Windsor, California makes several blends, of 2, 3, 4 and five clones for their customers to study and enjoy. I think I’ll open some tonight!