ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

When wines reference clonal selection or label something "12 clones," what are they talking about?

—Steven, Milwaukee

Dear Steven,

When it comes to grapes and clones, it's has nothing to do with sheep. If you take a cutting or bud of a "mother" plant or vine, you have a clone. The second plant will be genetically identical to the first.

Clones are taken when you have a grapevine with specific traits that you like and want to replicate. These characteristics could include resistance to fungus, appropriate crop load, desired berry and cluster size, early ripening, or particular aromatic and flavor profiles. These differences happen as a result of naturally occurring mutation in a single cell in the growing point of a grapevine shoot.

A "homemade" clone is known as a massal selection. There are also laboratory clones and "Samsonite" clones, vine cuttings brought in illegally through luggage (or stuffed down someone's pants, as I've heard).

The older the grape variety, the more clones you'll find, since there has been more time for the variations to arise. Pinot Noir, being among the oldest of all varieties, has dozens of known clones.

When a winemaker brags about blending multiple clones, it means they're either going for complexity in their wine, or that they realize a single vineyard site might be split into many smaller parcels, each one more conducive to one clone or another. One size does not always fit all in the land of grapes and clonal selections.

—Dr. Vinny


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