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A presentation at U.C. Davis



Off to the University of California at Davis later today for a talk and tasting I’m giving this evening to DEVO, the Davis Enology and Viticulture Organization’s “190X,” an occasional discussion series at which “professionals in the wine industry” are invited to speak to about 70 V&E students and faculty members. They’ve asked me to talk about how the wine industry has changed over the course of my observations, and various aspects of marketing, and what I think of crowd-sourcing and the era of the Big Critics, so this should be a fascinating conversation.

Of course I’m including a tasting, of five different clones of Pinot Noir: 4, 115, 2A, 23 and 667, all made identically by winemaker Denise Shurtleff from grapes grown in Cambria’s vineyard, down on the Santa Maria Bench. I myself have never even done this particular tasting, so it will be interesting to see if we can detect significant differences in the wines (all 2013s), which would have to be due to the clones. I had made lists over the years of the generally-accepted qualities of the various Pinot Noir clones, but I have to say that actual tasting experience often belies these theoretical differences as they come up against the hard reality of site, farming practices, degree of ripeness and so on. However, even if we can’t agree on the particular tastes of, say, 2A versus 115, I’m sure we’ll be able to see differences. At any rate, these sorts of discussions—while they may not result in definitive conclusions—can be the launch-point for fun conversations.

For “How has the California wine industry changed?” I’ll start off with the 5-point timeline I’ve been developing in the last few months, specifically regarding Pinot Noir, but really, you can apply it to any variety in California.

  • plant anything anywhere 1940s-1950s (e.g. Pinot Noir in St. Helena)
  • better understanding of variety:region. Pinot to the water [1940s-current: Tchelistcheff, Martini to Carneros]
  • find best sites in best regions (e.g. not all of Carneros good: slopes best, mud flats not so much] 1980s – current
  • improve plant material, clones, rootstocks, canopy mgmt.1990s – current
  • find best blocks within vineyards. Ongoing and into the future.

As an example of 5.0, I cite the contrasting examples of Jackson Family’s Gran Moraine vineyard, up in Oregon, and the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. I tell people that Gran Moraine, at 150 acres, is a pretty big vineyard, right? And they all agree. Then I ask them how many acres they think the DRC is (I mean all seven vineyards-within-a-vineyard, or climats). No one ever knows precisely, but they usually guess that it’s far less than 150 acres (some think as few as ten), and they’re surprised when I tell them the DRC totals 198 acres (according to Richard Olney’s little book, Romanée-Conti).

The point I wish to make is that the DRC in addition to being a big vineyard is a very old vineyard. Olney cites a reference to a “Romanis” vineyard in Vosne from the year 282 A.D., and suggests that “La Romanée may have belonged to the Roman emperors” of that era. Certainly the vignerons of Vosne have had a long time to figure out which climats are which: why La Tâche is different from Richebourg, not to mention Montrachet, where they grow, not Pinot Noir, but Chardonnay. Why, then, should we not look at a vineyard like Gran Moraine and imagine that, with due diligence, some future grower/winemaker in the 22nd or 23rd century should not have discovered tiny blocks within the greater vineyard that are the equivalents of Grand Crus?

Of course, in California some vintners have already been engaged in that process. I think of Josh Jensen, at Calera, who has sub-divided his Mount Harlan vineyard into at least six climats (Selleck, Mills, Reed, Ryan, Jensen and de Villiers), and the Rochiolis, whose teardrop-shaped vineyard off River Road in the Russian River Valley is broken into distinct climats: River Block, Mid 40, Little Hill, Sweetwater and so on. Granted, Josh Jensen and the Rochiolis did their sub-dividing more quickly than it took the Romans or Burgundians to figure out the subtleties of the Cote de Nuits. And granted (as I am reminded by people whenever I talk about the DRC), marketing has played a perhaps pre-eminent role in shaping our perceptions of the seven climats. Still, and for whatever reason/s, the identification of climats in these famous vineyards seems to be inherent in their evolution, and in our relationships with them; consumers and connoisseurs like it, and owners are happy to provide it.

I plan also in my talk to cover the waterfront of other influences on the wine industry, from demographic shifts and the rise of the Big Critics to the advent of social media. But this post is already getting a bit long, so I’ll hold off for now and report on that tomorrow.


  1. I think you are confused about DRC. The vineyard Romanée-Conti is quite small, around 4 acres. The entire vineyard holdings of the winery Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is less than 100 acres.

  2. TomHill says:

    Well, Kyle….sometimes facts are irrelevant when you’re trying to make a point.

  3. “all seven vineyards-within-a-vineyard, or climats”

    Steve are you suggesting Montrachet, La Tâche, Corton and Échezeaux are all climats within the same vineyard? The 8 grand cru bottlings of DRC come from different vineyards and not a single large one like JFW’s Gran Moraine. I certainly am not an expert on DRC, but simply a concerned reader who prefers being provided correct information and assessing appropriate comparisons.


  4. Bob Henry says:

    With Steve’s indulgence, this is going to be l-o-n-g comment.

    From WineWisdom website . . .

    “French paradox – climats and lieux-dits”
    (Published September 1, 2012):

    By Sally Easton, Master of Wine

    French semantics are to the fore as we delve into the fog-bound world of attempting to differentiate between Burgundian ‘clos’, ‘climat’, ‘lieu-dit’, ‘cru’ and ‘appellation’. Some are easier; others require increasing magnitudes of microscopy, combined, perhaps, with a small gallic shrug for the inevitable French paradoxes.

    Appellations are relatively easy, being delimited geographical areas codified from the 1930s. These are our basic units of measurement for Burgundy, and rank from basic Burgundy, up through village Burgundy, then premier cru then grand cru. ‘Cru’ is given a rough translation of ‘growth’, as there is no direct equivalent.

    ‘Clos’ is also easy, being a delimited geographical area bounded by physical walls. Indeed some ‘crus’ have been recognised as far back as the 7th century, for example Clos de Bèze in Gevrey-Chambertin. Given that much of early Bugundian viticulture was under the aegis of monks and dukes, adding a wall (clos) around a vineyard may have been common early practice.

    It is ‘climat’ and ‘lieu-dit’ that are challenging even the Burgundians, especially as they progress their UNESCO application for world heritage site status.

    These terms have evolved since the Middle Ages, as monks recognised one named vineyard parcel or plot or field as producing different-tasting wine (from the same grape) from a neighbouring parcel. In the Burgundian context, climat was being used to describe such parcels, so it is not derived from climate, or weather (as a French dictionary will suggest).

    Cécile Mathiaud, spokesperson at the Burgundy Wine Board explained “there is no official definition for a climat. They come from history and from the evolution of vineyard parcels. The work of the monks meant that parcels were divided between different qualities.”

    In more recent history, the field name of each lieu-dit has been documented since the creation of the land registry by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1807, so these parcels have been legally recognised plots of land for a couple of hundred years. Mathiaud added “at the time the land registry was created, climats already existed, so we can say it was both the names of the climats and the names of the lieux-dits that were registered” though lieu-dit is the official name for the land registry.

    The Burgundy Wine Board define a climat as “land with precisely defined limits, benefiting from specific geological and climatic conditions” … so delimited geographical areas. A lieu-dit is defined as “a geographical place with boundaries” … so also a delimited geographic area. Mmm.

    It appears that over time, climat and lieu-dit have been used pretty much interchangeably, which means an amount of confusion is being created as the region now attempts to extricate one from the other. This is proving rather tricky, especially as one climat can contain several lieux-dits, for example within the grand cru Clos de Vougeot. Equally, and paradoxically, we are told, a climat may cover just part of one lieu-dit.

    In broad terms, it was the climats that were effectively made into appellations in the 1930s, though not exclusively, so don’t use that a golden rule. Not all climats are classed as premier cru. Climats generally were better parcels, so these are the premier cru and grand cru appellations. More than 600 climats were made into premiers and grands crus. But there are more than 1,200 climats in Burgundy, so many are named plots in some village, or even regional, appellations. Champ de Perdrix, for example, is the name of the climat, (or lieu-dit?), of Domaine Jean-Pierre Charton’s Bourgogne Pinot noir.

    Given that appellations, specifically premier crus, can extend over a couple of hundred of metres of altitude, with fractionally differing aspects, gradient and exposures, it is reasonable to deduce that different bits of an appellation perform differently, and may therefore have parcellated names. So one appellation may have several climats (or lieux-dits?) within it.

    The Burgundy Wine Board is moving to suggest that the climat be used for premier and grand crus. These are the names found in the appellation declaration, certified by INAO (the government body that controls appellations). And the term lieux-dits be used for regional and village appellations – named parcels in these appellations are “not officially written in the INAO documents, but recognised according to custom and tasting” said Mathiaud.

    On the surface this leaves those other 600 climats, not made into premier and grand cru, subject to a name change to lieux-dits. Perhaps there is still some disentangling still to be done.

  5. Bob Henry says:


    “In Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s case, the crus the family has acquired through a process that started with Mr. de Villaine’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blochet, are some of the most sought after in the whole of Burgundy.

    “As well as owning the entirety of Romanée-Conti, they also own the larger La Tâche vineyard; 44% of Richebourg, 55% of Romanée Saint-Vivant, 38% of Grands Echézeaux and 12% of Echézeaux.”


  6. Bob Henry says:

    California climats . . .

    Excerpts from the San Francisco Chronicle “Food and Wine” Section
    (March 8, 2009, Page Unknown):

    “Vintner [David Hirsch] Creates Pinot Gold from Sonoma Coast’s Mysterious Mother Lode”

    By Jon Bonné
    Chronicle Wine Editor

    For all the acclaim, the secrets of [David] Hirsch’s success remain a bit of a mystery, at least on the surface. For most of 30 years he has been trying to decode a wild jumble of subsoils that include rocks of all types mixed with everything from porous sandstone to impenetrable clay. It led him to divide his 71 vineyard acres into 60 DIFFERENT BLOCKS, EACH WITH ITS OWN SOIL SIGNATURE, EACH FARMED ON ITS OWN. “If you’re focused on the site,” he says, “you’re looking for what’s happening underground.”

    Such lack of consistency is extremely rare among vineyards, which makes the site defy easy comprehension. As his winemaker Mark Doherty puts it: “There’s no elevator story.” The best comparison, inevitably, might be to the Burgundy’s endlessly divided lieux-dits, where quality has been divined row by row, but only after centuries.

    . . .

    But for Hirsch, working to decode one’s own land is very much a vintner’s prerogative. As inspiration, he cites none other than Aubert de Villaine of Burgundy’s immortal Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, who continually revises vineyard practices “like he’s someone with a real problem in the market,” Hirsch says.

    . . .

  7. I understand “climats.” I would even accept the argument that all of DRC’s Vosne Romanee land is a single large vineyard. However, I have a problem with the absence of truth with the other statements made about DRC above.

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