Every year in July our estate grown fruit begins veraison, their skins slowly transitioning from unripe green to Pinot Noir red. It’s the end of growth and the onset of ripening; a time when the acidity of the fruit begins to wane and sugars begin to accumulate. There’s a subtle change in the air of the vineyard, the promise of flavors and aromas on the cusp of becoming reality.
Usually this happens in late July, but in 2020 veraison surprised us early and led to an early harvest. Seeing as how fire season started early as well, this turned out to be a blessing! We were able to bring in most of our crop before the smoke came anywhere near Hallberg Ranch.
Compared to other varietals of grapes, Pinot Noir has hallmark elements of acidity, mild tannins, and notes of bright cherry, cedar, and earthiness—but each clone of Pinot Noir has its own special characteristics, including cluster shape, flavors, and aromas. As the changes of veraison take place, the difference between clones of Pinot Noir become more obvious. Each clone, and even the same clones grown in different areas, look, feel, and smell slightly different, adding depth and complexity to our finished wines.
We have 11 different clones of Pinot Noir planted on our vineyards—here’s a deeper look at just a few of them!
This is our Elite clone, a “suitcase clone” from La Romanée, an Grand Cru vineyard in Burgundy known for producing the best wine in the world (present company excluded). We’re grateful to have a piece of it in our vineyard!
The Elite produces small berries in loose clusters. We prize it for notes of tropical flowers and exotic fruits such as olallieberry and pomegranate, as well as a luscious, syrupy mouthfeel. This block becomes our Hallberg Ranch Elite, a singular expression of this unique selection.
This is clone 828. As you can see on the vineyard map, we have quite a bit of this clone scattered throughout the vineyard; the slight variations of terroir in each block make them all subtly different.
Clean and fruit-forward, 828 clusters tend to be long, skinny, and loose, with small, densely-colored berries. The grapes are intensely flavorful, bringing sweet-berry fruit characteristics with a tactile mouthfeel and bright acidity to the finished wine blends.
One of our most widely planted clones at Hallberg Ranch is clone 115. It grows in smaller, tighter clusters and, after veraison, will have a very deep purple, almost blue color.
You can think of them as little hand grenades of notable tannins, consistent aromatic profile of black cherries, leather, and roses, and flavors of cherries, blueberries, boysenberries, rose petals, and anise. With its fresh balance and aromatic profile, combined with excellent ageability, there’s little mystery to why we grow so much of it!
We make a special bottling of clone 115 from B block on Hallberg Ranch—you know it as our Don’s Block. The name is in honor of our first winemaker Don Blackburn, and the wine expresses the intensity of aromas and flavors carried by a beautiful bright acidity.
Clone 667 grows in big, tight clusters about the same size as clone 777 (not pictured). The grapes themselves are fleshy and firm, with a strong, rich color once the fruit has matured. If the clusters look unevenly colored, it’s because this clone tends to grow berries of varying sizes and maturity levels.
From this clone you can expect flavors of dark bramble fruits and baked goods, and aromas including dark cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and baking spices. The tannins are thick but soft, providing the framework for Hallberg Ranch’s spectacular depth.
Next up is our Hyde clone. It’s propagated from an established California vineyard—a venture between the Hyde Family of Napa Valley and the de Villaine Family of Burgundy. These families, related by marriage, both have long and illustrious histories in French and Californian winemaking.
We’re one of the few other vineyards to have this clone, thanks to a longtime friendship between our founder Brice Jones and Aubert de Villaine. The berries of this clone are small, concentrated bursts of intensity. They carry aromas of black fruit and olives, and contribute a meaty, plush mouthfeel to our Hallberg Ranch wine.
Pommard clone 5 was originally collected from the Château de Pommard in Burgundy. All Pommard clones tend towards a dense mouthfeel similar to 828, and clone 5 is no exception.
Look here for notes of dark plum, cherry pie, dried mushroom, and earthiness. The berries grow in small, tight clusters, with thick skins for deep color (once fully matured) and firm tannins.
Last but not least, clone 37. It’s also called the Mount Eden clone, prized and propagated across California from a vineyard overlooking the Silicon Valley, known for small clusters and tiny berries that deliver concentrated fruit flavors. Although it’s not fully matured in this picture, by the end of veraison the grapes appear to be almost black.
With clone 37 you can expect intense notes of stone fruit, soft tannins, and a creamy, fleshy mouthfeel.
Our La Combette wine is made from the clone 37 vines growing in I block on Hallberg Ranch. We prize the wine for its intensity, rich mouthfeel, and ageability.
If you’re itching to learn more, visit our tasting room and take off with our Flight of the Clones! Our knowledgeable hospitality staff are always happy to provide as much information as you can ask for.