Everyone who loves sparkling wine is familiar with the three grape varieties that traditionally go into making it: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. What’s less well known is that not every Chardonnay grape is structurally the same. Indeed, every known type of grape comes in multiple naturally mutating versions of its original self. Viticulturalists have recorded over 1,000 subtly different versions of Pinot around the world. There are thought to be over 80 different chardonnay clones – there are 31 certified clones in France alone.
Each clone is botanically different, meaning that it differs in varying degrees (sometimes significantly, sometimes infinitesimally) from other clones in the same grape family. Variations in skin density, sugar levels, acidity, rapidity of ripening and yield can exist.
This variety in characteristics is an open invitation for winemakers to explore new avenues of flavour. At Gusbourne, in 2015, with our root stalks by then firmly established for 11 years, Head Winemaker Charlie Holland took the opportunity to plant the Burgundian Chardonnay 809 clone. Why this particular number? Most Chardonnay clones are categorised as neutral variations of the central profile, with subtle differences between them, whereas 809 is known as a musque variation that shares characteristics with the aromatic Muscat grape. Yet it still retains the distinct acidic line of a Chablis-esque Chardonnay. Charlie’s interest in exploration was piqued.
Just under 0.7ha of 809 was planted in our Bottom Camp vineyard in 2015 because it’s our lowest-lying parcel (only 4 to 6m above sea level), protected by trees and less exposed than our hillside plantings – such accumulated warmth benefits ripening.
No special pruning strategy was employed, and in 2018, following whole-bunch pressing, the 809 was fermented in barriques and spent a further 10 months in French oak, as per our usual Chardonnay practice. The team waited to see what a 10% addition of 809 might add to our still wine Chardonnay Guinevere… “It didn’t quite work,” recalls Charlie. “Oak usually dials down aromatics, but the Muscat florality of the 809 remained overly persistent and threatened to dominate the purity of our Chardonnay Guinevere.
These things are sent to test winemakers, and Charlie’s next answer to the call of innovation was to develop a single expression, a pure still Chardonnay 809.
The result is the current release of Gusbourne Chardonnay 809 2020. The energetic backbone of this single 809 clone single vintage is unmistakably Chardonnay. An intense nose shows plenty of bright fruit character dominated by lemon, peach and tropical fruits. On the palate the wine is vibrant and brims with ripe fruit notes of green apple, orange zest, pineapple and white peach. The wine delicate yet perfumed, with orange blossom and white pepper notes, leading to a fresh, lively finish.
Chardonnay 809 2020 is an exciting rarity, due not only to its unique clonal composition but because we have a very limited annual production. These bottles are available through our cellar door at The Nest and on our website for a limited time only.
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