Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cabernet Sauvignon clones in France and California

I recently wrote about clones and the mechanisms utilized in France and California for their certification. In this post, I will examine the use of Cabernet Sauvignon clones in the selfsame areas.

According to Benjamin Lewin MW (Cradle of the Grape: The Origin and Spread of Cabernet Sauvignon, TONG Nº 20), the first Cabernet Sauvignon clone to be developed in France was Clone 15 in 1971. The French growers had been experiencing difficulty with Merlot so the authorities restricted all new plantings to Clone 15, largely due to its reliability. But that reliability brought along with it some attributes (high yields, large clusters, large berries) not associated with high quality wine. In addition, the clone increased the herbaceousness of Bordeaux wines throughout the 1970s, a condition only ameloriated by the development and introduction of new clones 10 years on (This narrative meshes with the first-generation objectives of the ENTAV cloning program: the production of high-yield clones in order to ensure a regular income for grape growers (Christophe Sereno, Cabernet Sauvignon Clones in France, TONG Nº 20)). This herbaceousness, driven by high yields, but aided and abetted by ripening difficulties in Bordeaux, became the measure of the typicity of Cabernet Sauvignon during this period (Lewin).

The Cabernet Sauvignon clones in use in France today are detailed in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Cabernet Sauvignon clones in France
Clone Origin Use Frequency (%) Wine Style
AOP Bordeaux Supérieur
Fruity, aromatic, easy-to-drink
AOP Bordeaux Supérieur
Aromatic, good tannins, well-structured
Loire Valley
Aromatic, balanced
AOP St. Emilion
Good color, well-structured
AOP Côtes de Blaye
Good tannins, balanced
AOP St. Emilion
Aromatic, balanced
AOP St. Emilion
Good color, well-structured
2 (along with clones 1124 and 1125)
Good color, aromatic, full-bodied, balanced
Southwest France
Fruity, aromatic, easy-to-drink
Sanitation of clone 191
2 (along with clones 1124 and 1125)
Good color, well-structured
Sanitary family of clone 337
2 (along with clones 1124 and 1125)
Aromatic, full-bodied, balanced
Source: Christophe Sereno: TONG #20; Clonal Selection of Cabernet Sauvignon in France, UCDavis Course, 5/15/2008

In the California case, by the late 1960s, most of the old Napa vineyards had been infected with Grape Fan Leaf virus which gradually killed the vine and affected wine quality negatively while doing so. The workhorse clone to that date had been clone 7 which, according to Bell (Anthony Bell, California Cabernet: The Search for the Best Clones, TONG Nº 20), is believed to hearken back to vines brought in from Chateau Margaux in the late 1800s. Foundation Plant Services worked diligently to free this clone of the virus, resulting in the first certified virus-free vines:

  • Clone 7 -- heat-treated for 62 days; registered in 1970
  • Clone 8 -- heat-treated for 168 days; registered in 1971
  • Clone 11 -- heat-treated for 168 days; registered in 1974 

These three are referred to collectively as the Concannon clone. As in the French case, these early clones were characterized by :

  • Large canopies
  • High vigor
  • Large yields
  • Large clusters
  • Increased mildew and rot incidence (due to the large canopies).

 Much subsequent work has been done in order to provide growers with clones with a broader array of characteristics. Table 2 lists Cabernet Sauvignon clones being utilized in California today while Table 3 enumerates the characteristics of selected members of the class.

Table 2: US Cabernet Sauvignon clones by source
Concannon Vineyard
7, 8, 11
Referred to as the Concannon clone; most widely planted clones in California
02, 06, 22, 23, 24, 40, 42
6 originated from Berkeley Field Station
Heritage Collection
29 (Niebaum), 30 (Disney Silverado), 31 (Mondavi selection for Tokalon)

04, 05

12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21

France — ENTAV
15 EV, 169, 170, 337, 338, 412, 685

France — Generic
33, 34, 35, 37, 43, 47

France — Donated by producer near Bordeaux
44, 45, 46, 48, 49, 50

38, 39


Source: Deborah Golino, Source of Cabernet Sauvignon Clones, UCDavis Course, 5/15/2008

Table 3. Selected characteristics of selected clones used in California
Moderate producer (4 - 5 tons per acre)
Strong flavor intensity
Good color, aroma, and balance
Little herbal character
Some spiciness
Known as Jackson clone
Low producer (1 -2 tons per acre)
Vines have no leaf roll virus
Dark-colored wines with firm tannins and strong flavor profile
Also known as the Wente Clone
Grafts well
Strong producer (6 - 12 tons per acre)
Wines have good fruit character, deep color, good acidity and structure
Herbaceous in cool growing seasons
No significant difference between wines made with clones 7 and 8
Can deliver high yields of good quality
Brought to CA in a suitcase
Popular in the re-plantings of the 1990s
Moderate producer
Small clusters
Small berries
Minimal herbal notes
Rich, red berry fruit notes
Dense, complex wines with bright fruit notes
Low producer
Similar growth pattern to clone 6
Small clusters
Small berries
Dense, complex wines with dark fruit flavors, good acidity, and good structure
Source: Compiled from Anthony Bell

In comparing the use of, and attitude towards, clones, Lewin found that most of the French growers use clones but have very little interest in the topic. They see very little difference between the clones and very little value in spending a lot of time and effort on trials. Most of the new plantings in the Bordeaux region are based on 337, 169, 341, 191, and 15 with 337 being "closest to a cult" due to its small berries, deep color, and the perception of producing long-lived wines.

On the other hand, there is high level of interest in Cabernet Sauvignon clones in Napa Valley as growers seek clones that work well within the reality of their specific climate and soils. The fact that meaningful differences will result based on the clone used was demonstrated in a 10-year, 14-clone trial conducted at Beaulieu Vineyards in the 1980s (Bell). In California, Clone 6 will make a herbaceous Cabernet Sauvignon wine while Clone 337 will produce a wine with the lush fruits of the international style.

One of the questions raised by the use of Cabernet Sauvignon clones is the typicity of the wine. I will cover that topic in a future post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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