We grow only Pinot Noir for sale. Pinot Noir is thought to be the oldest of the noble vinifera grapes. Perhaps for that reason it also exhibits the greatest tendency to mutate, forming distinct “clones” (i.e., genetically distinguishable versions of Pinot Noir). Magical powers are attributed to some Pinot Noir clones and much energy is spent debating which clones are “better,” although we feel that it is the combination of the site, farming and clone that produce the real magic.
We initially selected the “Calera” and “Pommard” clones of Pinot Noir for our vineyard. Both are “heritage” or “suitcase” clones of Pinot Noir, meaning they were smuggled into the United States from France before modern intellectual property law. We selected these clones based on conversations we had with farmers and with several well-known Russian River Valley winemakers who (out of respect and courtesy) will remain nameless here. We are very grateful for their thoughts and input, which was freely given — one of the best things about the Sonoma County wine industry, in our opinion. Later, to give our vineyard more “color” and (hopefully) improve our crop, we decided to graft a block that had previously been grafted to Calera to the Mariafeld clone of Pinot Noir.
The Calera clone of Pinot Noir is rumored to have been brought to the United States by Josh Jensen for his Calera vineyard in Monterey and taken from cuttings selected by Jensen from one of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti vineyards in Burgundy, where Jensen apprenticed. Jensen himself has claimed that his budwood was obtained from the nearby Chalone vineyard, which in turn was thought to contain budwood from Romanée-Conti and, maybe, Vosne-Romanée. In any event, it has the makings of a great mystery novel. In the American Pinot world, Chalone and Calera are forever linked and are considered the same clone. Good examples of Pinot Noir made predominately from the Calera clone include wines made by Paul Hobbs and Mark Aubert from Ulises Valdez’s UV or Ulises Valdez Vineyard, which is located just to the north of us on Laguna Road.
We sourced our “Calera” clone from UC Davis’ Foundation Plant Services, which delivers certified, virus-free plant material to commercial nurseries. There, it is described as FPS 90, and its provenance is stated as follows: “The source of FPS 90 was clone ‘P’ from the trial, which originally came from a vineyard near Chambertin, France, via the Chalone vineyard in California. FPS 90 was first registered in 2001. Pinot Noir FPS 96 and the Calera clone of Pinot Noir were taken from the same source material as was FPS 90.” The trial the provenance refers to is the 1974 Pinot Noir clonal trial conducted by grower Francis Mahoney and UC Davis specialist Curtis Alley.
Compared to the Calera clone, the lineage of the Pommard clone is clear. Harold Olmo, a UC Davis professor, originally imported the Pommard clone of Pinot Noir to the United States. We purchased our Pommard clone from FPS, which states that “this selection came to Foundation Plant Services around 1956 from Pommard, France, which is a wine region in the Côte de Beaune, subregion of Burgundy.” According to John Winthrop Haeger’s book, “North American Pinot Noir,” the Pommard clone predominates in wines made by Rochioli, Williams Selyem and Gary Farrell from Rochioli’s West Block and from the Allen Ranch, both located in the Middle Reach area of the Russian River Valley.
The Mariafeld clone of Pinot Noir came from Wadenswil, Switzerland to UC Davis in 1966. According to Haeger, “The mother vines for the various Mariafeld clones are said to have come…from the Mariafeld estate of General Ulrich Wille, commander in chief of the Swiss armed forces in World War I…” So, not from Burgundy, which is interesting and -- in California anyway -- a little unique. As we discussed in a blog entry, Celeste and I chose Mariafeld because we loved the way it tasted, and could consistently identify it as unique and delicious. That, I think, says something.
In block 6, we planted a microblock Chardonnay for our personal use. We grafted a mix (or “masale,” as the French would say) of the Mt. Eden and Robert Young clones of Chardonnay together with a “Mystery” clone (some of the Pinot Noir vines in Block 1 turned out to be Chardonnay, a not unheard of nursery mistake) onto 1616C.