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Why We Use Grape Clones at Simon Tolley Wines

Posted 31/05/2019

Winemakers and viticulturists look to clones to enhance their wines. Clonal selection is about finding the right version of a grape to fit our site and climate – one that will enrich the type of wine we aim to produce. 

Up until the 70s, people thought that the importance of clonal selection was related to improving viral resistance and yield; and it was believed that fruit quality was a result of growing practices. However, today it’s commonly understood that clones not only benefit the winemaking process, but also help to produce more robust, complex, and desirable wines.

Clones - which are the genetic identical of the ‘mother vine’ plant - have become highly specialised over the years. They can be selected based on a number of different factors - flavour profile, berry size, cluster shape, yield, vine vigour, budburst; as well as tolerances to heat, humidity and drought. Although every clone will taste like the parent variety, they will offer slightly different characteristics. For example, one clone may be fruitier, whilst another may retain more acidity. 

At Simon Tolley Wines, we use a combination of clones to produce our wines, in order to take advantage of the different flavours, smells and colour that each clone can express. 

Let us introduce you to the clones that we have planted in our Adelaide Hills vineyard:

SAUVIGNON BLANC
Clone F4V6
First Registered in Australia: 1975
Original Selection from: Chateau Yquem in France in the 1880's, via California vineyard (Wente Vineyards) in 1958 
Characteristics: Moderate yields, moderate bunch size, berry size and bunch compactness. This clone produces pronounced aromatic and tropical varietal character.

CHARDONNAY
Clone I10V1 
First Registered in Australia: 1969
Original Selection from: Martini Vineyard, California
Characteristics: Moderate high yielding, tighter bunches compared with Bernard clones (see below).
Flavour Profile: The wines produce good but simple fruit flavours: tropical, pineapple, citrus, white peach, grapefruit. Richer and fuller style and structure. Fleshy generous palate. 

This commercial clone I10V1 is possibly the most widely planted Chardonnay clone in Australia due to its availability in the early days. However, it did start to go out of favour due to Burgundian clones gaining in popularity, but it has recently been gaining more interest again amongst winemakers.

The following 3 clones are commonly referred to as Bernard or Dijon clones:

Clone Bernard 95 
Original Selection from: Côte-d’Or France
Characteristics: Moderate yields, looser bunches. Aromatic with a rich structure, balanced length with complex flavours. 76 and 95 are the two most widely planted Bernard clones. 
Characteristics: Elegance and palate structure is good regardless of where it is grown. Zesty and almost a green apple skin character. When it is picked at perfect ripeness it is honey dew melon like.
Flavour Profile: Citrus. 
Style and Structure: Fine with tight acid. Mineral acid structure. 

Clone Bernard 96 
Original Selection from: Côte-d’Or
Characteristics: Moderate-high yielding clone, due to bigger bunches. Wines obtained are aromatic, elegant and sharp. Ideal for the funkier and more textural styles. Good for sparkling. Can add structure to blends.
Flavour Profile: Lifted, attractive grapefruit. Zesty….green apple skin character. 
Style and Structure: Good spine and phenolic’s. Very structural and muscular clone. Solid and weighty, plump and textured.  

Clone Bernard 76 
Original Selection from: Saône-et-Loire
Characteristics: Moderate yields. Aromatic, fine, elegant and well balanced wines with complex flavours. 76 and 95 are the two most widely planted Bernard clones. 
Characteristics: Not as intense and structured as the 96. Good Blender.
Flavour Profile: Citrus. Lemony. Riper citrus and floral Chardonnay. 
Style and Structure: Fine mineral. Elegant….lighter finer style. Fruit forward style with structure.

PINOT NOIR
Clone MV6 
First Registered: 1974
Original Selection from: Griffith, NSW. However, pioneer viticulturist, James Busby, first brought Pinot Noir to Australia in December 1831, with cuttings taken from Clos Vougeot in Burgundy - labelled MV6 (mothervine 6). It’s estimated that there are 2000 clones, of which 200 have been registered. Pinot Noir is one of the most ancient grape varieties – said to have a 2000 year history, dating back to the 11th century. It’s genetically quite a fickle, unstable variety to cultivate. Therefore, clones are important to the production of Pinot Noir. 
Characteristics: Small berries and bunches, rarely over-crops, later ripening. Good colour, dense, full bodied wines with more tannins. Concentrated plummy and rich forest fruit character. A great stand-alone clone. Also great structure as a “foundation” clone blend. Brooding wines with texture and spice. 

SHIRAZ
Clone 2626 
First Registered: 1970
Original Selection from: Loxton (South Australia) SARDI trial.
Characteristics: a firm tannin structure with flavours of stewed fruit and sour cherries. When blended, this clone helps to provide more body and structure to the end wine.

Clone Tahbilk R6WV28 
This clone (Row 6 West Vine 28, hence the name) was selected in mid-1970’s from old “1860 selection” vines (old Tahbilk block) at Chateau Tahbilk, Victoria, by Richard Cirami and Viv Thompson. Based on leaf-roll symptoms, yield and maturity. R6WV28 is the most widely planted and appreciated – it’s a delicate, lower yielding, earlier ripening clone, with a strong bouquet, and open clusters, unlike many other Syrah clones.