2017 Morgan Pinot Noir
You might assume that the French, being hand-maidens to Pinot Noir for nearly twenty centuries, might have a deep understanding of the grape. Unfortunately this is not true.
Confusingly, Pinot Noir, the celebrated wine, is not just from one grape type. It is, in fact, many different grape types. Pinot loves to mutate and propagate, producing all kinds of children. Known as “clones” Pinot Noir’s lineage is vast, with not only Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Menuier as sons and daughters but also Gouais, Aligote, Auxerrois, Melon, Gamay and even Chardonnay rounding out the entire Pinot clonal clan – along with 55 others!
Pre-World War II, Burgundy was a vast mixed up field blend of all these different grapes. Post 1945 the French government sponsored such a vast program of agro-chemical usage it nearly wiped out all the vineyards in the Cote d’Or. It wasn’t until the then heretical work of Henri Jayer in the vineyards of Meo-Camuzet that Pinot Noir’s vast genetic wealth was recognized.
But now, it is in California where clonal work with Pinot Noir is at its most exciting. True, Burgundy has centuries of wine making history that cannot be replicated in California. It is also true that you will pay dearly for it. Thankfully, California’s spirit of experimentation is yielding an equally outstanding level of excitement to Pinot Noir’s delicious collage – through clones. And this is one of the standouts.
Morgan’s local climate is challenging. The entire region is a Winkler I on the heat scale – very cool. It is directly comparable to Burgundy France in mean temperature throughout the season. However, the region receives a massive amount of sunlight, being at roughly the same longitude as Jerez, Spain (sherry country). This cool temperature / high sun climate is unique in the world, and under the right wine-maker, with the right clones of Pinot Noir, the grapes develop into spectacular and unique wine.
Morgan uses 12 different clones of Pinot Noir to adapt to the conditions of the Santa Lucia Highlands. Dijon clones 667 and 777, originally descended from Domaine Ponsot in Morey St. Denis Burgundy, make up the back bone of Morgan’s Pinot Noir nick-named 12 clones. Here they display notes of black cherry, earth tones, and touches of black tea sweetened with honey. Pommard clones add a flowery smell to the nose as well as smoothing the back of the palate, making the finish soft and rich. The old American clones of Swan and Wadenswill provide structure and density. In very cool climates Pinot can take on an exotic wildness and here a Swiss clone adds a note of espresso. The unique combination of cool climate and high sun make this wine boldly expressive of its California fruit yet balanced and perfectly poised in a Burgundian way.
Burgundy’s rich tradition of site-specific wines is unmatched in the world. And the prices reflect it. California’s exploration of Pinot’s clones is unparalleled, with prices nowhere near that of even basic Burgundy. The French would undoubtedly claim that Burgundy’s vineyards trump California’s clones, but then again the French had a 200-year head start. For those of us who love great wine there has never been a better time to be revel in both.