The Many Clones of Pinot

During a recent wine tasting, we sipped a delicious Pinot Blanc from Sonoma County that was bursting with nectarine, peach, green apple and floral notes. As we were discussing this wine, it brought to mind the confusion around Pinots. Pinot Blanc (which is called Pinot Bianco in Italy), Pinot Gris (called Pinot Grigio in Italy) are mutations of Pinot Noir, one of the oldest and most heralded of all grape varieties.

The idea of clones tends to get confusing because there are also many different clones of Pinot Noir which were originally all referred to with numbers. Now there are names like Dijon, Pomard, 777, etc. Each clone expresses itself slightly different. For instance, one might give more red fruit aromas, one might have slightly thinner skin so less tannin will be in the wine, one might give a wine more acid. Many winemakers believe a blend of these clones is what make the best Pinot Noir because they all contribute something different that creates harmony in the final product— “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

All of the clones mentioned above result from small mutations of the original Pinot Noir vines, but with some of these mutations the differences were much greater that they became referred to as their own wine varietal, like Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.

My friend Zoë, who hosted the tasting, provided a very simple way to understand this. Think of these different clones like the many types of apples— Gala, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith. They are all apples but each has their own unique characteristics.

A fun experiment is to taste a Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris side-by-side to pick out similarities and differences.