Yesterday my friend Daniel Dycus recounted a conversation he had the other day with a certified sommelier. Daniel told this fellow he thought grape clone was at least as important as site in determining the characteristics of a wine. The somm told Daniel that he would “sound like an idiot if he said that to someone who knows anything about wine.” Well, Daniel was not sounding like an idiot, because this somm doesn’t know diddly about clones, at the very least.

Simply put, in my experience, clone often trumps site—especially when it comes to Pinot Noir. For example we recently had the experience of moving cuttings from a vineyard in Napa Valley (near Coombsville) to our vineyard in Sonoma Valley (near Santa Rosa). Different soil, different climate, different rootstock, different vine spacing, different trellising, different farming—and yet the wine we have made from this block is recognizably more similar to the wine we made from the older Coombsville site than it is to the wine we make from the Dijon clones of Pinot grown at our site. For that matter, there are reproducible differences between the wines we make from the Dijon clones we grow at our site, differences that I recognize in wines made from the same clones grown at other sites.

That Daniel’s somm friend gets it so wrong is emblematic of a larger issue: a total misconstruction by the supposed cognoscenti of what is meant by terroir. This somm along with scads and scads of other “experts” has been taught that terroir is all about location, location, location. It’s not, and never has been, even in Burgundy.

John Kelly is the owner and winemaker of Westwood Wines, Sonoma California. This blog was originally published on his blog: “notes from the winemaker” on the 12 November 2012.