We grow 5 Clones (types) of Pinot Noir at our ranch: Dijon 114, Dijon 115, Pommard, Swan, and the mystery "R" clone. "R" clone is a nickname for a Pinot Noir clone brought to our vineyard by our longtime winemaker and friend, Kent Rasmussen (R for Rasmussen). We planted "R" Clone back in the mid 1990's in the Block 3 - the heart of our Estate vineyard. As the vineyard matures over the years, yield begins to diminish, a natural occurrence of the vine "slowing down" with age. The "R" Clone Pinot Noir, however, remains quite vigorous, consistently producing big, juicy grape clusters with beautiful color, aroma and taste.
Last week we were barrel-tasting through the 2020 vintage with Kent Rasmussen, and I had the opportunity to ask him about the origins of the mystery "R" clone. The story he told me is rich with history and one worth telling...
In 1979 Kent and his father purchased a 10.5-acre Pinot Noir vineyard in Los Carneros, Napa Valley. The vineyard was planted in 1974 as part of a 600-acre vineyard development project lead by wine industry pioneers Louis M. Martini and Charles Krug; Kent remembers this vineyard as one of the first modern vineyards in Napa Valley. There was no information about the Pinot Noir Clone growing in that vineyard, it was just marketed as "Pinot Noir." Kent remarked, "Back then we didn't talk about clones. But I'd tried wine from that vineyard before we purchased it and it was the best Pinot Noir we'd ever had. " Kent used fruit from this vineyard to make Pinot Noir for his own label, and sold some fruit to wineries who were seeking the best Pinot Noir the Napa Valley had to offer. Kent's "R" Clone Pinot Noir was used in Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir until 1994.
When phylloxera hit the Napa Valley in the mid-1990s and wiped out our entire vineyard, we got some budwood from Kent's Carneros vineyard and established Block 3 at our ranch.
Kent sold his Los Carneros vineyard years back but drives past it regularly. He reports that about 85% of the original 1974 vineyard remains intact today. It is one of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in Carneros.
(above) An ariel photo of the 8-acre Elkhorn Peak Estate Vineyard, with insight into how we have our five Pinot Noir clones planted.