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Clonal Blending for Complexity
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Apr 19, 2016
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Davis Bynum, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir Jane’s Vineyard 2014
($35):  Long before Pinot Noir’s current popularity craze, Davis Bynum earned a solid reputation for the quality of his Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.  Forty-three years ago, to be precise, Bynum moved his fledgling winery to Russian River Valley and produced the valley’s first single-vineyard Pinot Noir with grapes purchased from neighbor Joe Rochioli, a renowned Pinot Noir grower.  Ten years later, Russian River Valley would become recognized as an AVA.

In 2007, Davis Bynum sold his winery to the Klein family, led by Tom Klein who also owns Rodney Strong Vineyards, another pioneering Russian River winery.  Winemaking is now in the hands of winemaker Greg Morthole and consultant David Ramey.

In keeping with the winery’s roots, Davis Bynum Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are single-vineyard wines.  Jane’s Vineyard, the 132-acre site of the estate’s Pinot Noir vines, situated in the Santa Rosa Plains area of The Russian River Valley AVA, is a mosaic of Pinot Noir clones.  The vineyard covers eleven blocks of Pinot Noir (and a single block of Sauvignon Blanc) and grows nine distinct Pinot Noir clones, both “Dijon” clones such as 114, 115, 667, and 777 and clones associated with UC Davis, such as Wadenswil/2A and Pommard/clone 4.  The wine, Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, is a blend of clones from throughout the vineyard.

To provide a glimpse of the complexity of raw material that these clones represent, winemaker Morthole produced individual wines from six of the clones in the 2013 vintage, using exactly the same winemaking and aging for each wine so that the characteristics of each clone would emerge clearly.  (These wines are not for sale.)  The wines show a fascinating range of aromas and flavors, from red and black cherry, raspberry and blueberry to floral notes, earthiness, leather, tea and dried mushroom.  They also show subtle stylistic differences, from edginess to generosity to delicacy of expression.  Tasting the 2013 Jane’s Vineyard final blend, which contains the fruit of eight clones, the myriad clonal characteristics become elements of a harmonious whole, and the wine’s complexity becomes evident.  

In 2013, Greg Morthole singled out two clones, 115 and 777, to produce in a small quantity for website sales ($55 each).  Unlike the single-clone wines produced for comparison tasting, these two wines are finished releases.  They are each beautiful Pinot Noirs, with mouth-filling flavor, smooth and soft tannins, and long, expressive finishes.  Their differences are subtle -- the 115 has more savory notes along with its raspberry-strawberry-cherry aromatics, for example, while the 777 has lush earthiness, polish and velvety texture along with its black raspberry and floral aromatics.  Both wines aged in French oak, but the Clone 115 Pinot Noir saw 44 percent new oak compared to just 25 percent new oak for the Clone 777 Pinot Noir.  

The current release of Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir is now the 2014 and, like the 2013, it is a blend of eight clones.  Although 2014 was one of the warmest growing seasons in several years, the wine is not overly rich and it has the nuance and definition that you would expect in a cooler year -- thanks perhaps to a harvesting regime that involved six pickings from August to mid-September, or perhaps to judicious clonal blending.  The wine has fruit aromas and flavors that range from cranberry to red plum and black cherry, with accents of damp earth, sweet spices and toast.  It is full-bodied, and yet refreshing acidity and delicate tannins sculpt the wine’s weight and give the wine lightness on its feet.  Its long finish resonates with tart and ripe fruitiness and an earthy undernote.

Although the Clone 115 and Clone 777 wines are very fine, singular expressions of Pinot Noir (and good values, considering their quality), the blended Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir is equally admirable for its composite expression of the vineyard, its artful balance and its own terrific value.

2014 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, 90 Points