Send in the Clones

A “clone” refers to a variation of a variety of wine grape that is selected for specific qualities, such as size of fruit, disease resistance, fruit color or aroma, maturation rate, or other characteristic. Clones are not “crosses” or “hybrids” or made in some laboratory. They are naturally occurring variations that are propagated through cuttings. Virtually all grape varieties have clones though few are well known. The “Brunello” clone of Sangiovese from the Montalcino region of Italy is more full bodied than its Chianti counterpart. The “Primativo” clone of Zinfandel ripens earlier than the traditional planting.

Grape ClusterHowever, other than a handful such as these, most wine grape variety clones are not discussed at all. If you go into a winery that specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah there will be little discussion of clonal selection. But, if you go into a winery that specialize in Pinot Noir, and you’ll be regaled with Dijon 114, 115. 667 and 777, plus Pommard 5, Swan, Wadenswil and Martini. Why all the clones? Because Pinot Noir mutates, a lot. Pinot Noir has mutated into Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris/Grigio, and Pinot Blanc. Pinot Noir clones are so plentiful that they had to start numbering them to keep them straight.

The attributes of some of the most popular clones are:

  • Martini – A long history in California, doing well in Anderson Valley, less well further south. Late ripening, and known for good tannin, and good acidity, but rather dull flavors.
  • Dijon 113 – High yielding and early ripening. Known for elegant aromatics, but rather thin flavors.
  • Dijon 114 – Can be highly variable from year to year. At its best, it produces a very floral, fruit driven, spicy wine.
  • Dijon 115 – The most widely planted of the Dijon clones. Aromas of cherries, leather and roses. Noted for its abundance of fruit flavors. Consistent in all locations. Considered the best overall Dijon clone until the arrival of 943.
  • Dijon 667 – In cool climates it produces a wine known for its dark cherry, pomegranate and cranberry, and aromas of nutmeg and baking spices. However, in warmer climes, the flavors are hard tending towards green apple.
  • Dijon 777 – Thick skin provides intense color and more tannins than other clones, but if not managed properly can lead to inelegant, clumsy wines.
  • Dijon 943 – A relative newcomer (hence the higher number) but it shows great promise as a “stand alone clone”. Small berries in small clusters, yielding dark juice, soft tannins, and aromas that have been described as shouting PINOT. The only “knock” on this clone is that the resultant wine may lack backbone.
  • Pommard 4 – Late ripening, and if managed properly, produces a wine with spicy aromas and velvety textures.
  • Pommard 5 – Small berries in tight clusters resulting firm tannins, deep color, and dark plummy flavors.
  • Swan – First brought to the U.S. by Joseph Swan, it is rumored to have come from Romanee Conti. The resultant wine is described as bright and rich, but lacking in color.
  • Wadenswil 2A – Excellent resistance to mildew and rot, means that it comes through in wet years where others don’t. Lends an elegance to blends.

Given the various clones of Pinot Noir listed (and many more that are not), a Pinot Noir producer could mix and match, depending on the vineyard’s location, put together a winning vineyard. No wonder Pinot Noir has been improving in California and Oregon.