We hear a lot about the many clones of Pinot Noir. We even see some of their names, like Pommard, W\u00e4denswil and 777, listed proudly on wine labels. But there\u2019s also an array of Chardonnay clones in use worldwide.\r\n\r\nThe world\u2019s most popular white wine, Chardonnay is the progeny of regal Pinot Noir and lesser-known Gouais Blanc. Given the breadth of Chardonnay plantings, it makes sense that the grape\u2019s clones thrive from Champagne to California to Western Australia.\r\n\r\nAlong with site and climate, these clones play a role in creating the style of Chardonnay in your glass, from full-bodied Napa Valley wines to racy, lean Chablis.\r\n\r\n\r\nUnderstanding Clones\r\nGrape clones are cuttings taken from a single vine that have identical genetic material to their parent source. They can be useful when growers want to cultivate a specific trait or group of traits, like productivity, berry size or acid retention. Climate, soil and other factors determine the success that a particular clone will achieve in a specific location.\r\n\r\nThese clones share certain similarities to field selections, or what the French call selection massale (massal selection), where a group of plants from a vineyard are cut after harvest and propagated. Ultimately, however, the two diverge.\r\n\r\n\u201cThere\u2019s inherent genetic variability [with field selections] because you have all those different plants, and they didn\u2019t all come from a single source,\u201d says David Ramey, founder/winemaker at Ramey Wine Cellars, one of California\u2019s premier Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers.\r\n\r\nIn the U.S., grape clones are propagated by places like Foundation Plant Services (FPS) at University of California, Davis. Established in 1958 to distribute clean (disease-free) plant material, FPS maintains more than 80 Chardonnay clones, identified by number.\r\n\r\nThose names can get confusing, though. Some clones numbered by FPS might have had different numbers before they were heat-treated. Others are referred to colloquially by the producers they originally came from, like the Martini clone, taken from Louis Martini\u2019s vineyard in Carneros, California, or the Robert Young clone, which came from a vineyard of the same name in Alexander Valley.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn California, you\u2019ve got Clone 4, which as I understand it, used to be 108, which is a selection from Louis Martini\u2019s Carneros vineyard,\u201d says Ramey.\r\n\r\nSo, some might call this Clone 4, while others might say Clone 108\u2014and it might actually be 108, if it were planted prior to being heat-treated. Others could refer to it as the Martini clone, which could be clones 4, 108, or even 5 and 6. Got it?\r\n\r\n\r\nChardonnay Clones in France\r\nIn Burgundy, Chardonnay\u2019s ancestral home, clones 76 and 95 are most prevalent, according to Christophe Deola, director at famed producer Louis Latour in Beaune.\r\n\r\nDeola\u2019s team works with a wide variety of other clones, as well as massal selections. These clones can have differences in productivity, sugar content and other factors. How productive a clone will be can contribute to its overall ripeness in a particular region.\r\n\r\nFor example, clones that set more tons per acre will require a warmer climate with more heat units to ripen the fruit. The opposite is true of clones that set smaller crops levels.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe clones that produce less are logically ripening faster,\u201d says Deola. He says such clones that he works with in Burgundy are 1066, 548 and 1067. \u201cThose produce rich wines with a high, dry extract. They need to be combined with some 76, 95 and 96 to add freshness and tension.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn Champagne, with its considerably cooler climate and dedication to sparkling wines, winemakers generally use different clones.\r\n\r\n\u201cBy and large, what Champagne plants is larger-production clones that keep the inherent fruitiness and richness at bay because they don\u2019t really want it,\u201d says David Adelsheim, founder of Adelsheim Vineyard in Oregon\u2019s Willamette Valley.\r\n\r\n\r\nNew World Chardonnay Clones\r\nAs he interned in Burgundy in the summer of 1974, Adelsheim noticed the area\u2019s Chardonnay clones ripened at the same time as its Pinot Noir. This occurred several weeks earlier than back home in Willamette.\r\n\r\nInspired, Adelsheim worked with others to bring these clones into the U.S., where they became known as the \u201cDijon clones,\u201d as they came from the Office National Interprofessionnel des Vins in Dijon, France.\r\n\r\nOf those imports, Adelsheim says clones 76 and 95 are now by far the most planted in Oregon.\r\n\r\n\u201c[Clones] 76 and 95 both make full-bodied, intensely flavored, relatively low crop-level Chardonnay,\u201d he says, in places like Willamette Valley.\r\n\r\nMany winemakers in Chile work with a similar set of clones as Oregon and Burgundy. Historically, however, the Mendoza clone was the most common and is still widely planted today.\r\n\r\n\u201c[The Mendoza clone is] a clone of Chardonnay where the size of the clusters is not big,\u201d says Marcelo Papa, chief winemaker at Concha y Toro, one of Chile\u2019s largest labels. \u201cIt could be good quality, but not for big production.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn the 1990s, clones 76, 95 and 548 became more prevalent in Chile. Others, like clones 4 and 5, were relegated largely to higher-production wines.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe like 548 and 95,\u201d says Papa. \u201cI think that there is more fruit character than the Mendoza clone. Clone 548, it has a very nice precision in the nose in terms of austerity. You can get a very nice mouthfeel.\u201d\r\n\r\nAnother Chardonnay clone, GinGin, thrives in cool-climate Western Australia. Its origins are unknown, but some of its resulting wines from Margaret River are considered among the world\u2019s best.\r\n\r\n\u201cOne of the main features of [GinGin] is it has millerandage, or \u2018hen and chick,\u2019 \u201d says Virginia Willcock, winemaker at Vasse Felix, of its irregularly sized fruit.\r\n\r\nWhile some winemakers think there\u2019s a virus infection in GinGin that causes millerandage, Willcock doesn\u2019t care. She believes it results in high-quality wines.\r\n\r\n\u201cYou get a lovely sense of phenolic tension coming with that clone,\u201d she says. \u201cWe get a lot of power to the fruit and flavor in the wine. We think that the clone is a perfect match for the Margaret River climate.\u201d\r\n\r\nMeanwhile, California, with a much warmer climate, has an abundance of what\u2019s referred to as the Wente clone. Or, more correctly, the Wente selection.\r\n\r\nWente is not a single clone, but rather a series of field selections. Some were imported in the late 1800s and early 1990s from France and propagated at Wente Vineyards and elsewhere. These are collectively referred to as \u201cOld Wente.\u201d Others are versions of these same clones that were heat treated by UC-Davis to eliminate viruses.\r\n\r\n\u201cThere\u2019s a lot of variations of Wente,\u201d says Ramey. \u201cI have a slight preference for a good Old Wente selection. You have a small cluster, and you have lower yield.\u201d\r\n\r\nClone 4 is also popular in California. It has high acid, high sugar and high yield. These allow it to ripen more slowly in warmer regions, hanging higher tonnage and retaining acidity.\r\n\r\nSite selection, however, is critical.\r\n\r\n\u201cYou plant Clone 4 on very vigorous soil, you\u2019re going to have football-sized clusters,\u201d says Ramey. \u201cBut if you plant it on a site that\u2019s poor in organic material and better drained with a little gravel, you can make a very nice wine.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\nDo Clones Matter?\r\nEven as they carefully select and cultivate their Chardonnay clones, many winemakers point out the numerous other factors that affect what grows well and where.\r\n\r\nRamey says clones are important, but they\u2019re \u201cnot the overarching factor in quality by any way you look at it, which would be climate.\u201d Rather, he says, think about clones as equally important to other vineyard design criteria, like rootstock, spacing, trellising and canopy management.\r\n\r\nConcho y Toro\u2019s Papa says that site trumps all. \u201cFor me, much, much more important than the clone is the place. Ten to 1.\u201d\r\n\r\nPapa also stresses the significance of rootstock, since winemakers often graft grapevines onto it to help resist various pests and diseases.\r\n\r\n\u201cIf you give me five good clones of Chardonnay\u201476, 95, 548, a massale selection, whatever you choose . . . I will choose the rootstock,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nWhy? Because of the way rootstock interacts with the soil.\r\n\r\n\u201cFor many, many years we\u2019ve been looking at the climate, which is important,\u201d says Papa. \u201cWe\u2019ve been looking at the clonal material, but we forget the vase. The vase is in the soil.\u201d\r\n\r\nPerhaps one day, like clones, rootstock names will be proclaimed on a wine label near you.