Question from Mark: A friend gave me a bottle of red wine that says Clone 337. What is it? It sounds like some kind of genetic engineering.
Reply: Hi, Mark. Thanks for writing. The word “clone” is accurate but, unfortunately, scary sounding. There’s no Dolly the Sheep thing going on here or genetic modification. In fact, when it comes to wine, cloning is quite natural and has been going on, on an informal basis, for quite a long time.
Science tells us that everything that lives, mutates (another scary word) which means that it’s subject to natural, genetic change. The freedictionary.com defines it as “A change of the DNA sequence within a gene or chromosome of an organism resulting in the creation of a new character or trait not found in the parental type.”
As time passes, the likelihood of mutation increases, which explains why clonal selection of Pinot Noir is a hot topic – it’s one of the oldest varieties we know and mutates quite readily. If you had an eighty-year-old Pinot Noir vineyard that was all the same clone to begin with, chances are you’ve got a few different versions out there by now.
Long before we had Petri dishes or DNA analysis, farmers began taking plant material from the best vines in their vineyards and using them for propagation (new plantings need to be cuttings, not seeds). They looked for vines that demonstrated attributes such as disease resistance, drought resistance, large production or anything else you might think of, depending upon the situation. Continue reading