I am going through my old files, and am basically going to be posting everything I can on the site. I have a tons of stuff in my "library" and it's high-time I share it with the world rather than letting it sit in a digital dustbin.
This file is about Old School California Pinot Noir Clones, and while I cannot remember exactly where it came from, it looks like it was taken from a seminar I sat through with Chad Melville, a number of years ago. I do not believe I originally wrote this material and am not taking credit for it, just simply sharing the information as it is good reading. With references to the differences and history of many of the clones we taste on a regular basis in Cali wines. I will be looking to fill in some of the missing information over time; these notes will be highlighted from the original text, though.
Pinot Noir Cluster to the right is a shot from Fess Parker Vineyards in Santa Barbara County, not far from Melville Winery.
Old School Pinot Noir Clones
The Pommard selection has been available in California for a number of years and can work great as a stand-alone clone. It is sometimes known for having a meaty/gamey edge, but also expresses itself through very pure dark fruits. Melville has traditionally been successful fermenting these lots with about one-third whole clusters.
One of the oldest clones in the state, the Mount Eden clone was reportedly brought to California in the late 19th century by Paul Masson from one of Louis Latour’s Burgundian vineyards. Locally, it also has an interesting history as it was used to plant the Sanford & Benedict vineyard in the early 1970s, while subsequent cuttings started the pinot noir at Lafond in the early 1980s. Melville procured budwood from Lafond in 1998. This clone is very dark and rich and offers tremendous bass tones to the wine. Melville has been very successful experimenting with different levels of stem inclusion for this clone. Similar to the Pommard clone, Mount Eden also displays completeness standing on its own.
This clone also has historical significance, as it was propagated in the Russian River Valley by Joseph Swan in 1969. Part of Melville’s Terraces section, this block is severely influenced by wind exposure. Due to the battered condition of the clusters upon picking, Melville traditionally de-stems the entirety of this clone. It displays beautiful, bright fruit with moderate richness.
Also known as Jackson clone, it is named after an experimental vineyard that was planted in 1889 near the town of Jackson in Northern California’s Sierra Foothills. This clone is rarely bottled on its own because of both its scarcity and because it lends itself to blending with other clones of pinot noir. The small amount with which Melville works (typically in conjunction with clone 16 mentioned below), has produced light to moderate weight wines with beautiful aromatics.
Like clone 9, the majority of this section is farmed for another client, with a small portion being retained for Melville.
Also known as the Wadenswil selection, clone 2A has been planted quite significantly in both California and Oregon. It has similar characteristics to clone 115 and seems quite complete on its own.
Melville acquired this clone of Pinot Noir from Calera in 2004. In 1973, Calera received cuttings from another California producer who had reported that the original source was from a quality vineyard in Burgundy (Cote d’Or).
Clone 943 originated in the Côte-d’Or of Burgundy, France, and although it was introduced to the United States in 1989, has very limited availability here even today. 943 is one of the few Dijon clones for which the French have negotiated a royalty payment on every bud sold in the U.S. Therefore, very few nurseries sell the clone. Clone 943 produces highly aromatic wines with supple, velvety tannins, deep color, small-berried clusters, and low yields. In fact, this clone has the lowest yield compared with 777, 667, 114, and 115.
In February 1974, the owners of Mount Eden Vineyards selected Merry Edwards, the “Queen of Pinot”, to be their winemaker. Merry made three vintages while at Mount Eden and earned a reputation as a rising star in the California wine industry. In 1975, Merry selected cuttings from Mount Eden’s pinot noir vineyard and sent them to UC Davis for heat treatment (to remove virus) and propagation. This field selection was then named UCD clone 37 (also known as the “Merry Edwards selection”) and became a star performer in the Russian River Valley. It is known for producing beautiful wines with complex aromatics, deep color, and velvety tannins.
Spent a little time today speaking with Tony Rynders of Tony Rynders Consulting, Tendril Wine Cellars /Child’s Play Wines, Tour de Force Wine Co. Some may also recognize Tony as the former winemaker for Domaine Serene, back in the early 2000s when they were basically the most highly decorated Oregon winery. Pretty serious, upper end wine maker, working in an area of production that I generally prefer to personally and professionally drink. He also spent time at Argyle, Hogue, and various wineries around the world.
The focus of our conversation was about some wines that Tony had produced and had an opportunity to sell as a private label; something we will work with from time to time, but not too often. He had some samples sent out to me and we tasted over the phone.
I have never met Tony face to face, but he was very approachable over the phone and we discussed the market situation on the East Coast and the ins-and-outs of the wholesale network as well as the retail landscape, a bit. The wines are great, unfortunately he had already sold the one that seemed to be most viable for me from a pricing point of view, but we are working to see what opportunities are available down the road for me and my group.
Along with the "opportunity" wines, Tony had forwarded out a bottle of the 2012 Tendril and 2014 Child's Play Pinot Noirs - these notes are below. The main label he produces right now is Tendril, and Child's Play is a slightly lower price-point item geared to the on- and off-premise markets. Tony's wines are great, but generally not cheap. The Child's Play Pinot Noir would be a retail item in the $30+ range, and Tendril Pinot Noir is more in the mid-$50s. Again, Tony is generally a premium wine-maker, and his wines range up the $100 retail level.
Unfortunately, at least for the time being the wines are not available in any of my markets (CT, MA, FL), but Tony is looking to possibly expand. Issue being though is all the wines are relatively small in production, so not a lot of juice to go around. Tendril does have a limited wine club, which for East Coast buyers would probably be the easiest route in obtaining these wines, and if the 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (which I am enjoying right now) is any indication of the other wines, then I think any serious Pinot Noir enthusiast should take a hard look at getting on this list.
Here are the tasting notes for the Tendril and Child's Play Pinot Noirs...
A 25 year drinks industry expert, Brian has worked on just about every side of the beverage business, specializing in wine & spirits education, staff training, creative consulting, and of course service. He lives and works in Connecticut, where the number of working Somm's is limited, but he hopes through the effort of this site and its related events, that will change.
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