Pinot Noir lovers should care about clones, period. Chris Kajani, president and winemaker of Bouchaine Vineyard, currently makes five single clone wines and with roughly 1000 clones of pinot noir circulating in the world, ignoring them means you’re missing out. Notes Kajani, “Individual clones exhibit significantly different characteristics and exploring pinot clones promises a lifetime of adventure for consumers.” Think of pinot noir clones as comparable to different tomatoes – grape, roma, and beefsteak are very different but they still have an essential tomato flavor and they are all tomatoes. Now, consider life if you limited yourself to only one type of tomato.
At Bouchaine, Kajani was so impressed with the distinction between clones that she vinified and bottled five separate clones from the same vineyard. “Because we are in such a cool site overlooking the water and we have so many blocks of pinot noir, I decided to bottle them separately because they were so different.” The results are fascinating; each wine offers a dramatically different expression of pinot noir. Kajani’s Swan clone bottling is lithe, graceful, with high-toned fruit while the Pommard clone delivers darker, brooding notes and is a bit creamier on the palate.
Generally speaking most winemakers blend a range of clones together in a wine, using them much like a chef would use a spice rack. Each clone brings its own verve and style to the wine. According to Kajani, different clones excel in different conditions, “the whole reason you mix it up to ensure something is thriving that year. Some have bigger berries, some are more susceptible to shatter, or suffer from mold pressure. Different years and different clones excel depending on what Mother Nature dishes out.”
So-called “suitcase” clones are literally cuttings that were brought over from Europe and planted in American soils. Swan, Dijon, and Pommard are suitcase clones brought over from Burgundy. Winemaker Josh Jensen, who passed away last year, brought a cutting from a monopole in Burgundy (many speculate it was from Domaine de la Romanee Conti, where he was an intern), planted it at high-elevations and today it is known as the Calera clone. Tasting clones is easier than you’d think with several winemakers calling out specific clones in their wines. Below are a few to start your journey:
Single Clone Expressions:
Bouchaine Estate Selections: Bouchaine is the oldest continuously operating winery in Carneros. Owners Gerret and Tatiana Copeland bought the estate and the winery, rescuing it from a state of disrepair and committing to significant investment in renovation, replanting, and a new hospitality center. The results have been impressive. Today, the winery produces wines of uncommon texture and elegance and winemaker Chris Kajani has been experimenting at length with single clone bottlings. She recently released two new bottlings: Bouchaine Estate Selection Mt. Eden Clone and Bouchaine Estate Selection Calera Clone, in addition to the three other single clone expressions they offer (Pommard, Dijon and Swan). Tasting them side-by-side is a fascinating experience but take note, they sell out quickly so when you see one buy it.
Papapietro Perry 777 Clone Pinot Noir, 2020: This marvelously complex and silky wine is a four vineyard blend of the 777 clone. Winemaker Ben Papapietro routinely separates their vineyard fruit by clone and vineyard during fermentation and winemaking, creating a marvelous spice rack to use in each blend. This one features four different microclimates and soils, but the same clone. The final wine is succulent, ripe with wild strawberry and raspberry fruit, and warm spice with a polished, lengthy finish. According to some, the 777 clone is a Dijon clone whose name is derived from the return address on the shipping container that supposedly delivered the original cuttings from Burgundy.
Calera Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir Mills Vineyard, CA, 2019: Calera founder Josh Jensen passed away this summer and is remembered as one of California’s winemaking pioneers. Jensen is responsible for the Calera clone, which he planted in several high-elevation vineyards along the slopes of the Gabilan Mountains. The Calera clone yields wines with a magical, dynamic tension that deliver mouth-watering savory notes and silky red black fruit notes. $95
Mixed Clonal Selections:
Jewell Pinot Noir Emerald, Humboldt County, This silky concentrated pinot from a very under-the-radar wine region weaves together a selection of clones, including the Martini Clone, which says winemaker Adrian Manspeaker, “we know very little about. We don’t know where the material originally came from or when it came to the US. The vine material was eventually taken to the Louis Martini Winery in Napa and then it was established and certified with UCD and that is when it got the name. The resulting wines that I have made from Martini clones are always bright with fresh red cherries, orange rind and minerality. I love minerality in pinot noir and that is why I gravitate toward this clone.”
Stoller Heritage Clones Pinot Noir, 2020: In 2017 the Stoller team planted a mix of heritage clone vines in an effort to cultivate complexity of flavor and expression in their wines, but the clones proved to be so distinct that they opted to blend them into a completely new wine – one that brims with earth, dark red fruits and a compelling silkiness on the palate. $40
Donnachadh Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, 2019: This is a small family winery in Santa Barbara and the name Donnachadh (pronounced “DON-nuh-kuh”) is the ancestral Scottish-Gaelic name for Duncan. For this wine, winemaker Ernst Storm used Dijon and California heritage clones — yielding a wine that is richly textured and elegant with notes of black cherry, five spice and black tea.