Oatley Vineyard: The Next Generation(s)

The Clone Wars

Friday, January 29th, 2021

Written by Ned, and posted in the:  StoryVineyard Category

So what type of vines should we plant? Pinot Noir.  Yes, but what type of vines should we plant?

It turns out there are over two thousand types of Pinot Noir.  Yes, two thousand!!  These different types of Pinot Noir are called clones, each one genetically almost identical but slightly different from the others in various ways.  Much like identical twins are never truly identical, especially if you know them well.

Conversations about Pinot Noir clones are pretty standard in the UK vineyard scene, it is planted extensively as it is so very versatile.  On one hand it is used to make Champagne (and many of the English Sparkling wines available) and just down the road in Burgundy it makes some of the best, and most expensive, reds in the world.

So how does that work? Pinot Noir has black-red skins, hence the ‘noir’ name.  In red wine, the colour, tannin and flavours come from the skins, so you want thick skins and smaller grapes (less juice) to give you more ‘red’ characteristics.  For Champagne you want lots of juice and thin skins, to give you a good white wine to make sparkling with.  Simplistically, the range of Pinot Noir clones available offer characteristics along this spectrum and you chose your clones based on what you are planning to make with them.

It isn’t just Pinot Noir that has a huge number of clones, pretty much all major grape varieties do.  It may seem like a trivial detail but it can have quite a significant and historic effect.  New Zealand founded its wine industry on just one clone of Sauvignon Blanc, one with a highly tropical and aromatic twist, which is why they are so recognisably Kiwi.  It is up for debate whether this is a good thing, on one hand it has given their wines a global signature and on the other, one trick ponies have a limited appeal.  Indeed you can see their industry now diversifying rapidly into other styles.

And so the debate continues in the UK.  We don’t have centuries of knowledge of vine growing in our difficult climate to fall back on, so for each new vineyard must find their own way.

We chose the spectacularly named clones 777 and 779.  777 Is towards the red end of the spectrum and 779 towards the sparkling end.  We hope these will provide us the flexibility to weather the uncertainty of the English climate, especially as the world warms.

The vines come from nurseries in France and in anticipation of Brexit related disruption, Vine-Works had the foresight to import our vines last year so they are sat in cold storage ready for planting in May, which all of a sudden doesn’t seem that long away!