Wild Child Clones

Posted Wed, February 15, 2017 in All Posts

Article by Meritih May, The Somm Journal (Februay/March 2017):

IN THE DECEMBER/JANUARY ISSUE OF THE SOMM JOURNAL, we touched on the subject of clonal massale (see page 83) and how the unsystematic planting of several clones in a single block is akin to wildflowers growing in a field. We wanted to engage with the folks at Ponzi Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to see how the wines made from their clonal massale sites have progressed thanks to this technique. Winemaker Luisa Ponzi plants all of the estate Pinot Noir blocks with this method, allowing the clones to complement one another, with the idea that quality will prevail, along with superb complexity, despite the variables of vintage.

We are spotlighting the two vineyard blocks planted á la clonal massale: the Avellana Vineyard and the Abetina 2 block at Aurora Vineyard. Even with so much change in the Willamette Valley, from the climate to the newer vineyard neighbors, Luisa still seems to be in the forefront of viticultural innovation.


I tasted the two wines side by side. At Avellana Vineyard, the Pinot Noir blocks are the first planted fully to clonal massale. Five Dijon clones are blended with 22 heritage clones from Abetina.

The two-acre Abetina site is planted to 22 different Pinot Noir clones on their own roots, part of a test site by Oregon State University that dates back to the mid-1970s. Abetina 2—a duplicate clonale massale planting at Ponzi’s Aurora Vineyard—is at the same elevation and aspect and has the same soil as the original, but planted on rootstock.

Ponzi Vineyards 2014 Avellana Pinot Noir was released this past November. The folks in Oregon are calling 2014 a “Goldilocks” vintage: not too hot, not too cold and not too much rain. But, interestingly enough, the Willamette Valley experienced its warmest season on record. The wine was aged in French oak barrels (50% new) for 20 months. With a nose that starts with earthy cranberry, it soon goes deeper with a leather/cinnamon effect. The tilled soil and Maraschino cherry–turned-mocha assume a place within the plush body of the wine.

Ponzi Vineyards 2011 Abetina 2 Pinot Noir at Aurora Vineyard has depth and breadth that ranges from the blackish-purple “flavors” of violets and the dust of rose petals to a mouth-coating wash of anise. Both gain textural mouth time, with broad, generous strokes of spice, pepper and sweet, ripe black fruit. This was a small yield vintage, with one of the coolest summers in 17 years.

There’s no doubt that these wines have the dimension, the balance and, I would think, an age-worthiness that many Pinot Noirs cannot achieve. By “blending in the vineyard,” Ponzi goes beyond the lab or the cellar. As in my mind I imagine Tinkerbell spreading fairy dust to obtain results, the clones, planted at random, make their own magic happen.

“Each clone has a personality,” notes Luisa, who followed in the footsteps of her father, Dick Ponzi, who founded the winery in 1970. “When many are combined in a single block, the multitude of characteristics naturally brings complexity and dimension to the wines.”