As I have noted many times before, especially recently after a tasting with Bruce Neyers, he is truly one of the most brilliant “wine minds” I have run across in my years of doing wine. He is able to combine theory with practicality. Furthermore, because of his dual “hats” of acting as the National Sales Manager for Kermit Lynch Wine merchants in addition to having his own Napa Valley winery, the insight he speaks about is very comprehensive & worldly. It is for these kinds of reasons, I truly relish my conversations with him over the years.
I include his latest blurb below so you can get an idea of what I mean.
“My first trip to France for Kermit Lynch was in January 1993. Accompanied by my long time colleague Ehren Jordan, I spent two weeks traveling from Paris to Marseilles — visiting producers, tasting wine, and learning about a side of France that was both new and fascinating to me.
Having begun Neyers Vineyards just the year before, I was sensitive to winemaking information that could be helpful to us. Ehren was living and working in Cornas at the time, so we scheduled a full day of visits with Kermit’s two producers there, Noel Verset and Auguste Clape. The Verset visit was wonderful; it remains one of the highlights of my career to have spent so much time with that colorful and storied vigneron. The meeting with Auguste Clape and his son, Pierre Marie, turned out to be the most informative – and most applicable — of the trip. We mainly discussed Syrah vines, since it was immediately clear to both Ehren and me that this was the topic the Clape family had on their minds.
As it turned out, they had been persuaded 15 years or so earlier to forego their traditional ‘Selection Massale’ process of developing replacement vineyards from existing vine stock. They had planted instead heat-treated, clonal selections of Syrah that were available from a nurseryman who had obtained them from the viticulture program at the University of Montpellier. The heat treatment system of vine propagation was developed in the United States in the early fifties to eliminate leaf-roll virus from grapevines sold by nurseries, and had been very successful. Leaf roll virus was now held in check.
Impressed by the scientific evidence, the father-son team at Clape removed almost two hectares of old vines infected with leaf-roll virus in their Reynard vineyard and, in 1975, replanted with a clone. (As part of the heat treatment program, vines were cloned – developed, that is, from a single parent rather than a vast field of different, biologically diverse plants. These ‘Clones’ – genetically identical plants –were what nurseries sold.)
When I visited Comas 15 years after Clape father and son had a taken this step, they had a chance to show us the other side of this presumably rosy picture. The wine they produced from the cloned vines was vastly inferior to that which they had produced for years from the same parcel planted to ‘Selection Massale’ vines. Neighbors who had removed old vines and re-planted with the ‘botanically superior’ clones had a similarly disappointing experience. The wine that Clape produced from the cloned vines was simpler, not as complex, not as flavorful or rich. In some instances, it was missing entirely some of the characteristics many had grown to recognize and appreciate in Clape Cornas. Moreover, the new vines had lost some of their natural defenses, and showed a susceptibility to common vineyard afflictions that had not been a concern for several years. As the Clape family saw it, complexity, natural protection, and much of the type and range of flavor had been bred out of the vine by the cloning process.
The difference was so profound that they had decided to bottle the Cornas produced from the cloned vines separately, and label it as a simple Côtes du Rhône. The selling price would be a fraction of what their top Cornas would fetch on the market. In an area already known for low yields from expensive real estate, this was going to be a financial disaster. There was much for them to grumble about when we began to taste the separate cuvées of the 1990, 1991 and 1992 vintages. I asked them what they planned to call this new wine. They looked at one another, looked back at me, and with a wry grin, Pierre-Marie said, “The Mistake”.
At Neyers Vineyards, we no longer work with any vines that are or have been developed from clones. Keep this in mind when you serve or sell a bottle of Neyers Carneros Chardonnay, or our Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon“.