The winemaker's clone

September 30, 2022

I've been a Chardonnista all my life. This wonderful grape caught my attention during my winemaking days at Sacred Hill, where I developed the famous Rifleman's Chardonnay, made 100% from Mendoza clone. We use the Mendoza Chardonnay clone at Tony Bish for all our handpicked wines. 

But what is a grape clone, you ask? Every grape variety (like Chardonnay) has multiple clones, and these are individual vine selections of a grape variety that show certain traits. Grape flowers are hermaphrodites, and over time genetic diversity appears. Us winemakers can then select a specific vine with proven positive attributes to propagate a clone. Mendoza is naturally low yielding, hence is called the 'winemaker's clone'.

Any particular clone will suit one region better or less so than another. It's a case of finding what works for a region, its climate, and its soil types. The proof is in the wine, and that's why in Hawke's Bay, Chardonnay made from the Mendoza clone expresses beautiful fruit intensity in the citrus spectrum. 

As the story goes, the Argentine named, Mendoza arrived in New Zealand via Australia taken from vineyard cuttings in California.  A few winemakers even claim the clone to be Burgundian in origin (they're probably French).  Where ever its from, we're not too fussy, it makes great Hawkes Bay Chardonnay and we'll celebrate that!

Mendoza Chardonnay makes up all our handpicked wines at Tony Bish – Heartwood, Golden Egg, Skeetfield and Zen. The vines at our Skeetfield Vineyard are 32 years old, one of the oldest blocks in New Zealand. The beauty of old vines is they're stable and weather resilient, producing the most intensely flavoured wines. Someone get a bottle of Skeetfield Chardonnay 2021 chilling!

Antony Bish
Antony Bish