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Oct 15, 2012 02:17 PM

Oregon Pinot....Please Help Me Understand

from a Jon Bonne column on Oregon Pinot Noir that ran in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle:

"To be fair, we did encounter a lot of dark-fruited, Dijon-clone muscle out there; it's nearly as endemic up north as down here. But that's not the only expression from all those vine selections of 115 and 777 (which, let's remember, migrated here from the north) and it is, I think, less a sign of innate quality than of style creep extending to the Northwest."

Is he saying that clones 115 and 777 migrated from Oregon to California? If so, does anyone know if this is accurate? Thanks.

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  1. I love Jon Bonne's wine writing, but I don't find that sentence especially clear.

    Here are a couple of histories, telling the story of how Burgundy clones first caught on in Oregon,
    and their popularity spread south:

    Dijon clones
    "In the mid-1980s, Oregon Pinot Noir winemakers became interested in European budwood. Working together with French researchers, OSU received cuttings from Dijon laboratories. Most of this budwood was taken from Domaine Ponsot in Morey-St. Denis. These cuttings were very carefully selected for vigor, disease resistance and flavor. Dijon clones were later brought to the Central Coast in the mid-1990s."

    Romancing the Dijon Clones
    "Oregon Pinot Noirs of the 1970s were often a blend of Pommard UCD 5, Wädenswil and the Coury Pommard clone. The workhorse Pinot Noir clones in California then were Pommard, and what are now termed 'heritage clones,' most of which were originally suitcase clones smuggled into the United States from France. The eventual importation of Dijon clones of Pinot Noir to Oregon was to dramatically changed the course of Pinot Noir winegrowing in the United States."

    1. I was thinking that Eyrie used those clones, but their lovely web site doesn't indicate that. I first tasted with David Lett at Eyrie in 1998. To me, their wines are still the most Burgundian in style of all the Oregon Pinots. Tasted again with Jason Lett in 2010. Still love them...

      1. I'm not sure this article really states a clear timeline difference, but it is clearly on this topic:

        If you want to take some time, there's a mention in this next article, about the Joseph Swan clone being imported directly from Burgundy in 1969, Swan is in the Russian River and is one of the earliest California Pinot producers.

        13 Replies
        1. re: Midlife

          Uh, excuse me????

          >>> Joseph Swan clone being imported directly from Burgundy in 1969, Swan is in the Russian River and is one of the earliest California Pinot producers. <<<

          OK. Yes, Joe *did* bring in cuttings directly from Burgundy. He told me so himself. But as far as being "one of the earliest California Pinot producers," I would say a loud, resounding "NO!"

          André Tchelistcheff, who joined Beaulieu in 1937, produced two of the most famous Pinot Noirs in the history of California: the 1946 and 1947. These were produced from vineyards in Rutherford, and following the harvest, bud wood was selected and -- in 1948 -- replanted, but this time in Carneros, joining Louis M. Martini Winery, which planted Pinot there the year before. André told me it took 20 years for the character and quality to come back, and the third Pinot Noir he would consider "great" was the 1968.

          BV's original plantings of Pinot Noir dated back to the early 1900s, but were planted for sparkling wine production (BV made méthode champenoise sparkling wines up until the early 1980s or so). The earliest known varietal BV Pinot Noir was the 1943.

          That said, I have had the 1941 Louis M. Martini Pinot Noir -- so Martini preceded BV on that score. Martin Ray was making Pinot Noir in the 1940s as well.

          But there is little doubt that Pinot Noir in California dates back to the 1850s. Generally, Pierre Pellier is credited with being responsible for its transport from France to California's Santa Clara Valley -- in either 1852 or 1856, according to "North American Pinot Noir," by John Winthrop Haeger. Or, continues Haeger, it might have been Ágoston Haraszthy, in 1856; or possible Charles Lefranc in 1858, Paul Masson definitely used Pinot Noir for his "Champagne" in the 1880s, and Napa Valley grape grower and nurseryman Hiram Crabb offered Pinot Noir in his 1882 sales catalog. (See pages 34-35.)

          1. re: zin1953

            You're excused.:-) I stand corrected. Should have known better than to group Swan with those early pioneers with this audience. Where would you place him in the overall Pinot "respect" hierarchy of California?

            1. re: Midlife

              Well, that's a bit on an odd question, because I always thought of Joe primarily for his Zinfandels and his 1970 Gamay -- one of, say, "The Best 25 California Wines I've Ever Had."

              Off the top of my head, and without referencing any notes of wine books, it seems to me that, starting in the 1960s, the chronology of great Pinot producers goes something like this:

              Beaulieu 1968 Pinot Noir, Carneros (special label)
              Mirassou 1969 Pinot Noir "Max Hubner Dedication Bottling" (Santa Clara? Monterey?)
              Mount Eden Vineyards 1972 Pinot Noir, Estate (Santa Cruz Mountains)
              Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards 1975 Pinot Noir, Estate (Santa Cruz Mountains)
              Beaulieu 1976 Pinot Noir, Carneros (special label)
              Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards 1977 Pinot Noir, Estate (Santa Cruz Mountains)

              Once Acacia, with their single-vineyard Carneros-based Pinots hit the market in the early 1980s, followed by Bouchaine (also Carneros fruit), people forgot about the Santa Cruz Mountains and turned their attention, as with many things, to Napa.

              While I don't recall a single Swan Pinot Noir as being "legendary," Joe deserves a great deal of credit for demonstrating (IMHO) the viability of Sonoma and the Russian River Valley for Pinot Noir ***as table wine*** in the first place! Korbel was using it for sparkling wine production, naturally, but few "serious" (whatever that means) table wines were being made at the time from Pinot. Swan not only proved it could be done, but it could be done repeatedly AND successfully.

              Oh, but that 1970 Gamay . . . holy $#!+, that was good! ;^)

              1. re: zin1953

                The majority of my exposure to Swan has been with Pinot and that includes a couple of visits to he winery. But I'd better bow out of this before I regret participating altogether. :-)

                1. re: zin1953

                  For me Joe Swan's '76 Pinot was pretty damn good. The '70 Gamay was fantastic.

              2. re: zin1953

                Paul Masson's Champagne was at the site of the future Mount Eden, correct?
                Do you think Swan's gamay was gamay? I've read that a lot of people who thought they were growing gamay in the 1970s (Charles Shaw, for example) were growing some clone of pinot noir.
                Supposedly the only gamay vines now currently in California are Steve Edmunds (El Dorado County I think) and the guy at Avanguardia at Nevada City.

                1. re: SteveTimko

                  Close, Steve, but no cigar . . . ;^) Bear with me -- it's a long story.

                  In the 1950s, there were two grapes grown in California with the name "gamay" attached. The first was called "Gamay Beaujolais" because it was (thought to be) Gamay Noir au jus blanc, the Gamay grape that was responsible for making the Beaujolais wines of France. The second was called "Napa Gamay," because -- well it was (thought to be) a Gamay grape that was in Napa.

                  >>> In order to produce a varietal wine from these two grapes, the ATF decreed that, as with all wines at the time, a wine needed to 51% of the named grape variety for the name of that grape to appear on the label.

                  In the 1960s, it was, "Oooops! We goofed!" Turns out "Napa Gamay" was (thought to be) the Gamay grape responsible for Beaujolais in France, and that "Gamay Beaujolais" was (thought to be) a clonal variant of Pinot Noir.


                  It was then that the ATF leaped into action. They decreed that:

                  1) IF a varietal wine was produced from the grape known as "Napa Gamay," the label could say: a) "NAPA GAMAY," as that was the name of the grape; b) "GAMAY BEAUJOLAIS," because, after all, it was the grape that was responsible for making Beaujolais in France; or c) simply "GAMAY," just to simplify the matter.

                  2) IF a varietal wine was produced from the grape known as "Gamay Beaujolias," the label could say: a) "GAMAY BEAUJOLAIS," as that was the name of the grape; b) "PINOT NOIR," because, after all, it was; or, c) simply "GAMAY," just to simplify the matter.


                  In the early 1970s, the famed French ampelographer Pierre Galet came to California and -- among other things -- was told by "the powers that be" about the two Gamays and the mixup. Galet looked at the vines and announced that the powers that be were crazy! YES, the grape they were calling "Gamay Beaujolais" was clearly a clone of Pinot Noir, but NO, the grape they were calling "Napa Gamay" was not Gamay Noir au jus blanc -- the grape responsible for Beaujolais -- but rather, it was Valdiguié, a minor and relatively obscure grape from France.


                  It was then the ATF leaped a second time:

                  1) IF a varietal wine was produced from the grape FORMERLY known as "Napa Gamay," the label could say: a) "NAPA GAMAY," as that was the name of the grape; or, b) "VALDIGUIÉ," because, after all, that was *really* the name of the grape. However, after 19nn, it could only be labeled "Valdiguié."

                  2) IF a varietal wine was produced from the grape known as "Gamay Beaujolias," the label could say: a) "GAMAY BEAUJOLAIS," as that was the name of the grape; or, b) "PINOT NOIR," because, after all, it was. However, after 19nn, it could only be labeled "Pinot Noir."


                  The 1970 Joseph Swan Gamay was (IMHO) Valdiguié.


                  Now, about Charles F. Shaw (NEVER to be confused with the current "Charles Shaw" label, aka "Two-Buck Chuck") . . .

                  He was a successful businessman who, while living in Europe, fell in love the REAL Beaujolais of France. He decided to start a winery in the Napa Valley with the intent of produced wines similar to true Beaujolais, and founded the Charles F. Shaw winery in 1974. . When he found out there was no Gamay Noir au jus blanc planted in California, he decided to fix that and tried to import the REAL Beraujolais grape from France -- but to no avail. In order to import certified, disease-free grapevine cuttings, it would take years. So (as the story goes), he took the Air France Concorde to Paris, the train to Lyon, and drove to Beaujolais, where he met with Georges Dubouef. He got cuttings from vineyards in Brouilly (IIRC), and went straight back to Paris and the Concorde flight to New York. When he landed at JFK and went to clear Customs, he was asked if he had anything to declare. He replied, only these grapevine cuttings -- which were immediately confiscated and destroyed as a potentially harmful agricultural product.

                  So . . . instead of returning to California empty-handed . . . Shaw turned around, caught the next Concorde flight back to Paris, and returned to Dubouef for more cuttings! ("Weren't you here yesterday?") When he got to the Charles de Gaulle airport -- according to the story -- he went into the bathroom and taped the cuttings to his thighs, boarded the flight and went back to New York.

                  "Anything to declare," asked the Customs agent.

                  "Nope," he said, walking a bit stiffly.

                  "OK, welcome home."

                  He went into the bathroom at JFK, removed the cuttings from beneath his pants, and flew on to SFO and planted his vineyard . . .

                  Were it not for Charles F. Shaw, there would be no REAL Gamay Noir au jus blanc in California -- he brought in the very first vines circa 1974.


                  Today, ANY wine made from the grape Valdiguié can ONLY be labeled "Valdiguié." Any wine which is labeled "Gamay" actually IS produced from Gamay Noir au jus blanc.


                  1. re: zin1953

                    Much appreciated. I love the cuttings in the pants story.

                    1. re: maria lorraine


                      Obviously ANY winery in California determined to focus on Beaujolais-styled wines is a winery pretty much doomed to failure. Charles F. Shaw left his winery in 1992, and the "F." was dropped from the label. Eventually the winery and label were acquired by the Franzias (Bronco Wine Co.) and "Two Buck Chuck" was born!

                      Charles F. Shaw, by the way, went on to make more money in Chicago and started another winery, Oerther Vineyard, which is dedicated to producing great Rieslings! The winery began in 2010, and their first release is scheduled for Fall 2012, according to his website, but I don't know when.


                      By the way, the winery is in Michigan.

                      1. re: zin1953

                        They make some pretty nice Rieslings in Michigan...

                2. re: zin1953

                  Hey Zin,

                  Can you confirm that the '46 and '47 Beaulieu's were the "Beaumont" bottlings?


                  1. re: ellaystingray

                    Yes, they were the "regular" bottlings. They were produced from BV's vineyard (#4, I think?) east of Hwy. 29 and Rutherford.

                    After the 1947 harvest, Tchelistcheff supervised the collections of cuttings from the best portion of the vineyard -- a little knoll, if I remember what André told me -- for propagation in the (new) Carneros vineyard.

                    FWIW, the UC Davis "clonal species garden" of Pinot Noir was planted at the Louis M. Martini Carneros vineyard . . .