Clone 4 Chardonnay for Wine Blogging Wednesday

September 11, 2007

I was driving through Alexander Valley noodling this month’s challenge for P5290476Wine Blogging Wednesday—to write about an indigenous grape variety. At first, my thoughts went far afield to the unusual varietals I’ve discovered in foreign lands—Kekfrankos in Hungary, for example, or Assyrtiko in Greece. But as I watched the emerald carpet of vines whiz past me and thought more about the meaning of the word indigenousto belong naturally to a place—I was hit with the urge to celebrate a a grape closer to home. One that, like me, may not originally have come from Sonoma County, yet nonetheless belongs here more than anywhere else in the world.

But what? I wondered . . .

Then I remembered Keith Horn, Clos du Bois’ viticulturalist, smiling like a proud papa as he cradled a plump bunch of berries in his hand. “This is the workhorse of Sonoma County Chardonnay,” he said. “It grows perfectly here on the ranch.” When I pushed him for more detail about what “this” was, he answered, “Clone 4.”

Clone 4 was one of many unique selections taken from a block of Chardonnay in southern Sonoma County, long before viticultural research in its present form existed. The farmer had gotten his bud wood from another vineyard whose owners had sourced their vines from the Wente Brothers in Livermore, via France. Over the years, the grower noticed certain vines would consistently exhibit certain cluster and berry sizes, distinct flavors, growth patterns, leaf size, etc.

Intrigued with these findings, he began working with Harold Olmo at UC Davis. Olmo labeled and observed the vines over several years and then eventually took several samples back to UC Davis. From those Sonoma County cuttings, Clone 4 was selected and propagated.

Why are there clones in my wine?
Glad you asked. Just as there are different varietals of grapes, there are also different subsets—called clones—of those varietals, selected and propagated to thrive in various growing conditions or to impart a particular character to a wine. Chardonnay clones that were developed and propagated in Burgundy, the motherland of Chardonnay, have a complexity and finesse to them. But the vines do best in a climate more akin to Central France than the valleys of Northern California.

The Clone 4 selection, on the other hand, thrives in the foggy mornings, hot afternoons and dry, sunny summers of Sonoma County. It’s known generally for heavy, big-berried clusters (compare the Clone 4 cluster in the foreground of the photo compared to the Burgundian Clone in the background), fine quality fruit and ability to retain acidity in a warm climate. But its qualities still vary greatly depending on the particular terroir of where it’s grown, which gives the winemaker a palette of characteristics to play with. Beyond those variations, there’s even further opportunity for adding nuance with the Burgundian clones.

So . . . does Chardonnay as a varietal come from Sonoma County? No. Does Clone 4 Chardonnay belong here? Yes.

Cheers,
Lia

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3 Responses to “Clone 4 Chardonnay for Wine Blogging Wednesday”


  1. […] Lia writes about Sonoma chardonnay (whoops, violating the rule to avoid the “big six”) but she makes it a clone 4 and writes about its cultivation. Sadly, no tasting note! [Swirling Notions] […]


  2. […] first ever release by Iconic Wine, the 2010 Heroine Chardonnay, utilizes 100% Clone 4 Chardonnay arising from the 4-acre only Michael Mara Vineyard of Sonoma, run by Steve Matthiasson. The site […]


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