Part V – Heritage Clones
The success of the Margaret River wine industry, as we are discovering through this series, is thanks to a number of factors, including optimum climate, ancient soils and… heritage clones.
Thanks to an absence of the vine pest phylloxera, the majority of Margaret River vines have been grown from cuttings taken from high quality, existing vineyards. These cuttings, also known as clones, are created when a piece of the mother vine is cut off and either planted directly into the soil or grafted onto another vine.
Over time, two heritage clones have had a significant influence on the character of Margaret River’s distinctive Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon styles – the Gin Gin Clone and the Houghton Clone.
Gin Gin Clone
The Gin Gin clone is often acknowledged as being the key to the success of Margaret River’s award-winning Chardonnay. While its origins are shrouded in mystery, it is most recently though that the Gin Gin clone, previously known as FPS 1, was first brought to Western Australia from California by University of California Viticulture Professor Harold Olmo in 1957. It is now the predominant clone of Chardonnay grown in Margaret River today. Named after the West Australian vineyard site where it was first planted, the clone is renowned for producing grape bunches containing a variety of berry sizes, referred to as ‘hen and chicken’. The result – powerful-yet-elegant wines with complex and concentrated citrus and tropical fruit flavours.
Many of Margaret River’s greatest Cabernets were born from Houghton clones, which were originally developed by WA’s Department of Agriculture at Houghton Vineyard in the Swan Valley from 1968 to 1970. The department sought to find vines of good health and fruit flavour, which they could then grow in the Margaret River Wine Region. Twenty one high-performing vines were selected and trialled at sites in Gingin and Frankland, before making their way to Margaret River. The Houghton Clone often displays lower vigour vines, lower yields and less herbaceous characters. On the palate, think classic blackcurrant and cassis characters that have become the quintessential markers of a fine drop of Margaret River Cab Sav.