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"Best Nose of Any Wine in a Long Time"

(post, Willamette Valley Vineyards)

The bottling line is buzzing today as we bottle our 2008 Dijon Clone Chardonnay. Forrest Klaffke, our winemaker, says this wine has the best nose of any wine he has smelled in a long time! Since the advent of the Dijon clones, Oregon Chardonnays have become more complex and food friendly, ours is no exception.

Founder/CEO, Jim Bernau, was at the forefront bringing Dijon Clones into Oregon.

In a February 2008 article by Larry Walker of Wines & Vines writes:

Dijon is a term that refers to a group of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clones imported into the US from the Burgundy region of France.

Oregon growers were quick off the mark in getting the Dijon clones. Jim Bernau, the founder and president of Willamette Valley Vineyards, recalls that he went to Burgundy in 1988, along with David Adelsheim and other Oregon growers, to discuss bringing the clones to Oregon. He was among the first to plant the new clones after their release from quarantine.

The 1988 trip to Burgundy was preceded by a visit by Adelsheim in 1974. Oregon winegrowers had already set their sights on a Burgundian model for the state, and Adelsheim wanted to check out winemaking practices.

It was clear to Adelsheim and others that the Chardonnay clonal selections from California were not working right in the cooler Oregon climate. Adelsheim encouraged Oregon State University (OSU) to import the clones, and the first ones arrived in 1977. After going through a two-year quarantine process, it became clear that they were not the clones he had seen in Burgundy.

Apparently, the clones he had seen were developed in the 1960s by Raymond Bernard, a scientist in the Dijon office of the French Ministry of Agriculture, although the exact origin of the Dijon clones remains cloudy. At any rate, the first "Dijon" clones imported to Oregon were 75, 76, 96 and 98. Following the 1988 trip, clones 77, 95 and 277 were brought into Oregon.

"Lab technicians at OSU nicknamed them the "Dijon clones" after the return address on the shipping container," Bernau told Wines & Vines.

He added that the Dijon clones ripen earlier and are more complex and produce more food-friendly wine. "They tend to have more mineral with more typical developed flavors of citrus, stone fruits, white peach, melon and other tropical notes. They have superior structure, complexity and natural acidity.

Before the widespread adoption of the Dijon clones, Oregon Chardonnay took some negative whacks as being too acidic and hard, and the new clones came along in time to help put Chardonnay on the right track there.

In 1995 there were 1,512 acres of Chardonnay planted in Oregon. In 2005, that number had fallen to 842 acres, according to the Oregon Agricultural Statistics Service. Most expect that when the new acreage report is issued later this year, Chardonnay plantings will be up, largely due to a perceived boost in wine quality due to the Dijon clones.

Luisa Ponzi, the winemaker at Ponzi Vineyards in the Willamette Valley, has worked with Dijon clones 95, 96, 75 and 76 as well as Davis clone 108, along with the Wente clone, which was the standard Chardonnay clone in Oregon before the introduction of the Dijon clones. She credits the Dijon clones with completely changing the flavor profile of Oregon Chardonnay.

She doesn't think the Dijon clones are, in themselves, superior to older clones. "But in Oregon, they are certainly better suited to our climate. Physiologically, they are completely different from the older clones we were using--smaller clusters, less vigorous canopy, minimal shoulders. When matched with Oregon's cool climate, this gives the advantage of early and more consistent ripening. Flavor development is complete and the fruit achieves maturity before the effects of any compromising weather set in. This is a very different scenario than what we were dealing with in the older clonal selections," she told Wines & Vines.

She said the new Chardonnays are not comparable to the Chardonnay being produced in Oregon before the mid-'90s. "We now have intense fruit character, richness and depth while still retaining a freshness of acidity, even with 100% malolactic fermentation."

We agree and are excited for the release of our 2008 Dijon Clone Chardonnay. Just smelling it this morning wasn't enough, I can't wait to taste it! The 2006 Dijon Clone Chardonnay is currently available to taste in our Tasting Room (it won't disappoint either).

Larry Walker "Dijon Chardonnay choices: Oregon and California growers discuss their Chardonnay clones". Wines & Vines. Feb 2008.