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"Field Blend" of Vines Comes to Oregon Vineyards

Pinot Clones Mingle in the Vineyard

Oregon winemakers have been mixing it up in the vineyards lately-not with party hats and music, but with different clones of Pinot Noir. Clones of Pinot noir are slightly different variations of the grape, each with its own flavors and growing conditions. The tradition of planting grape clones in blocks, separating different clones from each other, is now joined by a new trend - "field blends"-planting different clones together in the same section. And the idea is gaining momentum.

At right, Daedalus Cellars' Aron Hess is planting part of his new vineyard in a "field blend"

Winemakers usually plant different blocks of their vineyards with different Pinot noir clones, one per block. There are more than 25 different Pinot Noir clones, each with a slightly different genetic code. You may have heard about Pommard, Wadenswil or Dijon clones at wine tastings or in discussions with winemakers. Each clone has different flavors and scents and reacts to different climatic situations. For example, Pommard has red cherry and spice flavors in the mouth, while Wadenswil exhibits blueberry and tar flavors.

The "field mix" of different Pinot noir clones is a new idea that a few Oregon wineries have adopted. Rather than plant vineyards in sections, where each section is a different single clone, a few wineries are now planting vineyards with the different clones intermingled in field - thus the "field blend" designate. Grape vines of different clones in a field blend are grown together, harvested together, processed together, and made into one wine. In the best cases, the field blend will result in a unique and delicious Pinot noir, incorporating the best of all of the different clones in the blend.

Field blends are fairly common is California-there is even a winery with a blend called "mescolanza," similar to the popular salad mixed called Mesclun. Acacia Winery has a field blend of four clones of Pinot Noir that is planted, harvested, and co-fermented together.

The trend is happening in Europe as well. Wineries in Burgundy, for example, are replanting vineyards in field blends of Pinot Noir clones, with French-based companies supplying the clones and offering packages of mixed clones for planting together.

It is still too early to tell whether field blends will become the more popular method for vineyard management, or "just another fashion trend, like skirt lengths," says one Oregon wine expert. Much will depend on whether wine enthusiasts prefer field blended wines to those with single vineyards, and wine critic scores, which does have an impact on the buying public.

Aron Hess is winemaker and manager of Twelfth & Maple Winery, a technically sophisticated, state-of-the-art facility in Dundee, Oregon. Hess makes wine for more than a dozen clients in the region. While developing Twelfth & Maple Winery’s vineyard site in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, Hess is also developing his own vineyard and winery called Daedalus Cellars.

At this point, Hess has embraced the field blend concept and is planting different Pinot clones together in his vineyard. Sections of his vineyards will have blends of up to six different grape vine clones on several root stocks. Hess says mixing the clones together and co-fermenting will provide very distinct wines.

"Our research shows evidence that wine co-fermented from a field blend of different clones is substantially different in flavor than a wine blended from different clones after each is fermented separately," Hess said.

It will be up to the wine buyer to ultimately tell winemakers whether mixing it up in the field parlays into a fad or a new tradition here to stay.

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