Pinot Noir: What’s in a name?

Pinot Noir Ripening on September 19, 2007

Pinot Noir was one of the first grape vines I acquired. My research indicated that it was the only traditional red wine grape that would ripen in my neck of the woods, and I was right about that. What I missed was how many different kinds of Pinot Noir there are. It’s a very old grape that growers have been propagating for 1000’s of years (really!) by rooting cuttings. Each cutting ought to be, and almost always is, identical to the mother plant because there is no pollination or any other exchange of genetic material involved. Over those 1000’s of years, little variations popped up. Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, for example, have the same DNA (there must be some difference, but my understanding is that genetic testing can’t tell them apart) as Pinot Noir but are legally different varieties. Many other different kinds of Pinot are legally “Pinot Noir”; these are clones.

One clone that growers here in the Puget Sound are getting excited about is called Pinot Precoce (Fruhburgunder in Germany). It ripens up to three weeks earlier than other clones of Pinot Noir, and that’s huge in a cool climate like ours. I said “other clones,” and one thing local growers are wrestling with is weather they can call wine made from Pinot Precoce “Pinot Noir”. If it’s a clone, then yes, if it’s a “sport” or offshoot, then no. The answer to that question may have as much to do with the commercial success of this … clone, sport, whatever as how good the wine is.

I did some digging and found out that my Pinot Noir is clone ESP374. Never heard of it? It is also called FPS100. Oh never mind – it’s not a very popular clone. I’m hoping to move, in the near future, to a place with enough land to plant a small vineyard in the ground. Maybe then I’ll try this Pinot Precoce or whatever the current fancy might be by then.

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