Tastings – Clone Wars
Cloning was invented by George Lucas in an early Star Wars film and subsequently improved by Scottish scientists through the development of Dolly, the sheep. At least that’s what Chat GPT tells us.
But really, clones are serious business in the wine trade and an important part of the productivity, taste structure and even survival of wine grapes. Yet with so much to remember about wine, understanding clones adds a further level of complexity, and enjoyment, to wine appreciation. Pinot Noir is not just Pinot Noir.
Some of the clones we see today were brought over from France, smuggled illegally in some cases, and sometimes in suitcases. Just picture a somewhat seedy French dude, pulling back his overcoat to reveal vest pockets stuffed with vine cuttings and you’ll get the picture. They are literally known as the “suitcase selections!” Other clones were developed at the University of California and at least one celebrated varietal, 777, was introduced into the U.S. by Oregon State University.
The wine you sip at Saffron Fields uses one or more of four clones: 777, Wadenswil, Pommard or 115. 777 and 115 are both grouped as Dijon clones. Interestingly, these and other Dijon clones were so named because of the return address on the shipping container in which they arrived. Wadenswil, originally certified in Switzerland, was the first variety introduced into Oregon.
Up here in the northern Willamette Valley, we favor some clones because they are well matched to a wet cool growing season. At least this made sense in the pre-climate change era when the Oregon wine industry was taking off. Some clones offer a firm structure to the wine that can hold together the more complex floral varietals that give the wine depth. Nonetheless, a single profile cannot be determined from the clone alone. An early-ripening clone grown in Oregon will produce a distinctively different wine than one grown in a warmer climate of California with its longer season. Some experts say that even the site can change the character of the clone. For example, the character of a wine dominated by the Pommard clone will differ between grapes sourced from Saffron Fields and grapes sourced from Shea Vineyards, just to the east.
Of course, the variety of clones gives the winemaker a broad palette to work with, when combined with other elements such as the vintage, the slope, the soil and even the barrels used to age the wine. We asked Tony Rynders to divulge the secrets to success in creating Saffron Field’s wine. Tony ain’t telling. Still, you can taste the subtle, but delightful, variations by popping a couple of Saffron Fields single clone wines (choose from the same vintage) and experiencing the differences for yourself. It’s a great excuse to share and compare with good friends, especially those who appreciate fine wine.