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Pinot Noir 667 Clone Performance at Vynfields

By February 23, 2014No Comments

A bunch of clone 667Pinot Noir

Sitting on the veranda early in the evening, enjoying dinner with John Bell and Kaye McAulay at their Vynfields vineyard in Martinborough, I was taken by the appearance of the clone 667 Pinot Noir grapes right in front of me. With permission, I went over to the first rows and snapped off a healthy looking bunch and returned to the table, and we examined the bunch and berries. Veraison had completed successfully and the grapes had coloured up beautifully. A little spray residue (biodynamic, of course) could be seen, and the berries were shiny and clean, the bunch tight, with a more even berry size than expected. I’ve learned that opinions vary on how tight the bunches and berry evenness is considered best. Nevertheless, John and Kaye were extremely pleased with how the conditions were shaping up for the 2014 Pinot Noir harvest, all on track with ideal crop loading. Picking was at least three to four weeks away, with the fruit at over 17° brix. So I posted on Twitter that the clone 667 could potentially make a wine in the class of their highly-regarded ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2009, which we were drinking. Soon after, Australian wine journo Lester Jesberg replied to my tweet with a query: “Does it ripen too early in normal warm vintages?”

“Results Will Vary”
There’s no simple answer to how different clones of Pinot Noir will perform. 667 is one of the third wave of Pinot Noir clones that have been imported into New Zealand. The earliest had the Swiss and sparkling versions, such as Mariafeld and then 10/5 for table wine production. The ‘gumboot’, ‘Abel’ or ‘Ata Rangi’ clone, purportedly cuttings from Domaine Romanee Conti was a special case. Then the Davis imports, here called the Pommard clones, such as 5 and 6 came in, representing advances in better performance to certain criteria including ripening and yield consistency, followed by the Dijon clones, such as 113-115, 667 and 777, with taste quality characteristics being features. Of course there are more recent developments with special ENTAV and INRA research grown clones well-established here now. Along the way has been rootstock performance and compatibility factors accounted for to an even greater degree.

The conclusions are in the most part: “results will vary” as the famous consumer goods disclaimer goes. The fact is that there is a multitude of factors which influence the performance of Pinot Noir clones, as far as I can ascertain. Not in order of importance, and certainly not comprehensively, factors are the site, aspect and position of the plantings. In some areas of a vineyard, certain plants thrive or they struggle. The soils and interaction with the rootstocks, as well as the age of the vines can all be an influence on how they perform. Do organic and biodynamic regimes make a difference over conventional growing? Pruning, canopy and yield management are crucial. And surely vinification can play a large part. The style as preferred by the grower or winemaker, and the all-important interpretation by critics, judges and consumers has a bearing on the perception of performance of each clone. One vineyard’s success with clone 667 Pinot Noir will be different to a neighbour’s, for any of the above reasons.

Clone 667 at Vynfields
The earliness of ripening has implications in build-up of aromatics, which can be insufficiently nuanced if too quick, and the results of over-ripening must be avoided, these among other consequences. In discussing Pinot Noir clonal performance with John Bell at Vynfields, he reckoned that 667 was a good and consistent performer, providing breadth to the final Pinot Noir blend. Clone 5 is predominant comprising 60%, with 25% 667, 10% of 115 and 5% of the enigmatic Abel clone. The 667 ripening is not too early for their site. First is clone 5, with 667 next and clone 115 latest, and Abel very variable. The Pinot Noir is on a mixture of rootstock, mainly3306 and 3309 and the wines are now 16 years old, planted in 1998, managed organically and biodynamically. Various sections of the vineyard and blocks of 667 and managed at different yields for the ‘estate’ and ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir labels, approximately 35 hl/ha on overage, or close to grand cru Burgundy levels.

Would they wish things were different? If John and Kaye were to do it again, they’d have a greater percentage of Abel in the mix. But 667 is part of the whole vineyard organism that works well for John and Kaye at Vynfields. They’ve judged what they do as being very good and are very satisfied with what the vineyard delivers in the final package. The consumer seems pleased as well, their wines well received and regarded. I count myself among these people. www.vynfields.com

Disclaimer: Vynfields wines are distributed by ‘Wine2Trade’, the company under which ‘Raymond Chan Wine Reviews’ operates.

John Bell & Kaye McAulay – Loving Vynfields Pinot Noir

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