[Information based on DipWSET D1 material]

Massal versus clonal selection; WineFolly.com
Massal versus clonal selection; WineFolly.com

Planting a new vineyard, replanting an old vineyard—where does that new vine material come from? There are a couple different options growers have, each with their own benefits and downfalls. Let’s take a look…


The first thing you have to understand is what a clone actually is. A clone is a new plant that is genetically identical to the parent plant. There are two methods of creating a clone:

  1. Cutting: A section of a vine shoot that is planted and grows as a new plant. This is the most common way to propagate a clone, as you can take several cuttings from the same vine and plant them at the same time. It also allows for the grafting of rootstocks—which has its own list of advantages—as well as allows nurseries to inspect and treat the plant material for any diseases or viruses and thus prevent spreading.

    A tray of grafted grapevines breaking bud for the first time. By Grafted Vines (CCBYSA)
    A tray of grafted grapevines breaking bud for the first time. By Grafted Vines (CCBYSA)
  2. Layering: I always think of layering as a bit old-fashion, but I’ve actually been in a modern vineyard here in California where they were in the process of creating a “new Old Vine Zin” block using layering. Basically, all you do is bend over a cane from the parent plant and bury it into the ground. The cane will take root—thus will be own-rooted, not grafted onto rootstock material—and then can be cut off from the parent plant.

Both these methods create a new plant that is genetically identical to the parent plantclones. However, there’s always the chance of genetic mutation. In some cases, those mutations are actually favorable characteristics—smaller or larger berry sizes; thicker or thinner skins; disease resistance; etc. When that’s the case, these vines will be propagated (via cuttings) to reproduce plants with those same qualities—this is called clonal selection.

My text gives this example:

  • Pinot Noir Clone 115 has low yields of small grapes, making it suited to high quality red wine production.
  • By comparison, Pinot Noir Clone 521 has higher yields of bigger grapes, making it better suited to sparkling wine production, since high concentrations of tannins and color from skins are not needed to produce these wines.
Pinot Noir Clones
Pinot Noir Clones

NOTE: Sometimes mutations are SO significant that the new plant material will qualify as a whole new grape variety. Example: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are all mutations of the grape variety Pinot. (Who’s super wanting some Pinot at the moment?)

When it comes to clonal selection, the typical way of getting your gloves on that new plant material is to buy the vines from a nursery. It’s a smart move: they’ve been tested for diseases and virus infections. However, a downside is that you’re at the mercy of what’s available at the nursery and certain regions only have a certain amount of options available—less diversity of fruit; less blending options; identical vines will be susceptible to identical diseases. An advantage is that there’s a higher chance of uniform grape development, harvest date, and, as a result, wine style and quality (especially if the weather patterns are fairly uniform throughout the region as well). But, in the spirit of diversity, most growers in this case will purchase and plant as many clones as are available.


Massal selection is, again, a process that I think of as a bit “old-fashioned.” But, again, I’ve been in modern vineyards here in California where this is totally a thing.

Massal selection refers to the grape grower propagating their own plant material utilizing their own vineyard material. They’ll take cuttings from their vines for cultivation. It takes years of observation to decide which vines are most suited to be parent material. Thus, a disadvantage to this process is that it is a long, laborious, and costly process. But, the up-side is that creating new clonal material means greater diversity—both in the vineyard and the growing region. (As opposed to buying the same stuff everyone else has access to at your local vine-store.)

NOTE: These cuttings can be taken to a nursery to be tested and grafted onto rootstocks if necessary.

Diversity IS good...
Diversity IS good…

Make sense? Did I get all my factoids right? Questions, comments, concerns, observations, or requests?

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