When you look at well-established producers, they reflect the historical timelines in planting of what was available at the time.
THE Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) issued a press release in August 2020 announcing one of the oldest mysteries in Australian wine history had been solved. The origins of the Gin-Gin clone of chardonnay was revealed. Using genomic research, the Gin-Gin clone has been traced back to an old Californian source block at UC Davis. First introduced in 1957 to Western Australia, Gin-Gin has a shared heritage with Old Foundation Block (OF) and the common Mendoza clones. However, the AWRI stress that they are ‘quite distinct from each other…despite their shared origins’. Gin-Gin is the most commonly used clone in Margaret River and is responsible for some top drops including Pierro Chardonnay. A clone is where a single superior ‘mother vine’ is selected and cuttings are propagated, usually by a research centre or nursery, sounds simple, but it take years of development and trials to perfect a new clone.
Gin-Gin is where clonal selection started in Australia, or maybe not, as in South Australia’s High Eden sub-region Mountadam vineyard who had a rare clone called Marble Hill. In 1972 David Wynn took cuttings from an old vine that was growing in the summer residence of the Governor of South Australia. The mother vine no longer exists as Marble Hill was destroyed in the Black Sunday bushfires of January 1955. The vine was known as ‘chardonuet’ dating back to 1860, when it was brought over by a French horticulturalist from Burgundy.
Shortly after Gin-Gin arrived in Australia, P58 Clone also arrived, followed in 1968 by the Mendoza clone and the year after that came clone I10V1, V2 and V5. All of these, with the exception of P58, were imported from UC Davis in California. Fast forward to the 80’s and 90’s, we started to see the arrival of Burgundian clones which has continued as a trend into the 2000’s.
I10V1 is the most widely planted clone in Australia. When you look at well-established producers, they reflect the historical timelines in planting of what was available at the time. Curly Flat in the Macedon Ranges is a case in point. The early ninety’s vineyard at Curly Flat is planted to P58 with I10V1, V3 and V5.
The arrival of the Bernard or Dijon French clones created a lot of excitement. “The French imports 76, 95 and 96 have significantly lifted the quality potential of chardonnay in Australia. But it must be said that there are mature vineyards with I10V1 that are consistently used in our top wines,” comments Treasury Wine Estate’s Clare Dry, winemaker for Seppelts wines. “While I haven’t had the same exposure to Gin-Gin, Mendoza and P58 as the other clones, you can definitely see why they have a strong following with Gin-Gin and Mendoza adding attractive exotic, tropical fruit and P58 with its fine lemon/citrus characters,” she adds.
Nick Dry, Viticulturist of the Year in 2019, is an expert on nursery propagation having run Yalumba Nursery for 10 years. He now runs his own viticultural consultancy called Foundation Viticulture. “I think the quality of clones have helped our chardonnay compete on the world stage. The newest clones have provided an opportunity to produce leaner styles of chardonnay.” Nick is right in saying that clones have helped us develop different styles of chardonnay. The most recent arrivals have again caused a stir. These are again French, ENTAV-INRA® 548 and 809 arrived in 2004 and ENTAV-INRA® 1066 arrived in 2007.
“Out of the new clones, I think ENTAV-INRA® 548 is the standout one. It shows intensity and complexity and has been picked up by some high-end producers. ENTAV-INRA® 809, the muscat clone, is a useful addition.” This last clone has a particular strong grapey, floral aroma and flavour normally found in the muscat family. Moorilla in Tasmania have made a feature of it in their Praxis Musqué Chardonnay.
ENTAV-INRA®548 might be comparatively new to Australia but it has been a selected clone in France since the late 1970’s. One of the pinnacles of chardonnay is the Grand Cru of Corton Charlemagne in the Côte de Beaune. According to an article, written by the late Dr Roderick Bonfiglioli, who worked at the Riversun Nursery in New Zealand, the Burgundians are replanting their old vines with 548 and 1066 with 809 being sparingly used in around 10% of the blend. So, if these clones are making world renowned chardonnay it is not surprising that they are being planted in Australia. Clare Dry confirms this, “ENTAV- INRA® 548 is planted in a number of premium, cool climate vineyards and it is very exciting showing excellent depth and complexity especially considering the relatively, young vine age”.
By approaching a number of winemakers, Nick was able to provide us with a summary of the flavour profiles of some of the main clones. I10V1 is more towards stone and topical fruits and has a fleshy palate. Similarly, Mendoza tends towards melon when ripe and is full bodied. P58, 76 and 95 is finer with lemon and lime characters. Whilst clone 96 has zesty grapefruit characters and is good for sparkling wine.
Not all vignerons choose to use nursery grafted clones. “I’d say around 20 to 30% of vineyards still use cutting from existing vines,” estimates Nick, and when you consider that it costs 3x as much to use grafted stock you can see why it is still popular. It’s a lengthy process using nursery clones as you also have to decide what root stock to use. The choice of rootstock can be tricky. “For cool climates I’d go with 101-14, 3309C, 5 C Teleki or 5BB Kober. For warm climate then 1103 Paulsen or 110 Richter are popular,” advises Nick. Each rootstock has particular attributes, and these have to be matched to the sites soils and climate. The rootstock’s tolerance to drought, disease and its vigour are other factors.
Whilst the introduction of new clones can be a factor, it is also interesting to consider whether it is the site that ultimately determines the quality of the wine. Ben Kimmorley, Assistant Winemaker at Curly Flat seems to think so, “clones give the shape, the outline, but the site gives the potential and fills in the detail. We are here to find the voice of the vineyard”.