America's First Certified Brunello Clone Sangiovese Wine to be Produced with the 2004 Harvest

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Cuneo Cellars of Carlton, Oregon, is making the first wine in America to be produced from certified Brunello Sangiovese grape stock. Brunello is one of the great wines of the world, and this Pacific Northwest version will the first-ever North American rendition of this venerable Italian classic wine.

In a few days Cuneo Cellars will begin making America’s first 100% certified Brunello Clone Sangiovese wine. “We will be harvesting grapes that are the same clone of Sangiovese as the great Brunello di Montalcino wines of Tuscany,” says Gino Cuneo, co-owner of Cuneo Cellars and the winemaker of the new wine. “We believe that we will be the first producer in North America—perhaps the New World—to commercially make wine from this impressive and important Italian Sangiovese clone.”

Cuneo Cellars is growing their Brunello Clone of Sangiovese at Ciel du Cheval Vineyard in the Red Mountain appellation of Washington State, and will be making the wine at their winery in Carlton, Oregon, beginning as soon as the grapes reach ioptimum ripeness. With a focus on Italian varietals and 15 years of winemaking experience in the Pacific Northwest, Cuneo Cellars is uniquely positioned to pioneer this New World expression of an Old World classic.

“Brunello di Montalcino is one of the world’s greatest wines,” says Cuneo. “We are excited to be the first to work with exactly the same grape here in the Pacific Northwest. But,” Cuneo emphasizes, “we are not trying to duplicate Brunello di Montalcino wines because that would be impossible. Rather, our goal is to explore how this superior Sangiovese clone expresses itself in the unique terroir of the Pacific Northwest.”

Certified Brunello Clone the First of Its Kind in America

In viticultural terms, a “clone” is a plant produced by vegetative propagation (generally cuttings) from a single so-called “mother plant.” Each clone is genetically identical to the mother plant. Hence, the Brunello Clone of Sangiovese being grown by Cuneo Cellars has been directly taken from, and is genetically identical to, the great Brunello Clone of Sangiovese (also known as Sangiovese grosso) used to make Italy’s Brunello di Montalcino wines.

The Brunello Clone Cuneo is using, officially known as Sangiovese VCR 6 (Montalcino), was brought into America by NovaVine Grapevine Nursery of Santa Rosa, California under a partnership with Italy’s Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo (VCR), the largest provider of grapevine plants in the world.

NovaVine sent the imported clone through the rigorous 2-year testing and certification program of the University of California at Davis’ Foundation Plant Materials Service (FPMS). “This is the first Brunello Clone to have been certified for use in the U.S. by FPMS as having proven true to type and free of viruses and other diseases,” says Jay R. Jensen, CEO of NovaVine. Additionally, this Brunello Clone has been selected, tested, and certified for use in the European Union by VCR.

Brunello Clone Grown at One of America’s Most Respected Vineyards

Cuneo Cellars teamed up with one of the most prestigious vineyards in North America to provide an optimum growing environment for the Brunello Clone vines. Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, in the Red Mountain AVA of Washington state, planted 5 acres of the Brunello Clone in 2002 using a density of 2,000 vines per acre on vertical shoot positioned trellises—similar to practices in the best vineyards of the Montalcino commune.

Ciel du Cheval owner Jim Holmes and his vineyard manager Ryan Johnson have taken into account both local and Italian vineyard management practices. Vine rows are on a 10-degree pitch off a north/south alignment in order to maximize gentle morning sun exposure and reduce the potential of afternoon sunburn. The highly calciferous soil provides a natural control to vigor, and carefully applied drip irrigation helps prevent the Brunello Clone vines from becoming overstressed.

“The vines have been taking quite well,” says Holmes. “The foliage is even and nicely balanced with clusters sitting in dappled sunlight.” During the first three years of growth, the Brunello Clone vines have proven able to weather the area’s cold winters. Clusters appear to be somewhat smaller then other non-Brunello Sangiovese vines in the vineyard, and yield is being limited to avoid dilution of flavors through over cropping.

The warm, though not overly hot, 2004 growing season appears to be headed for an early harvest. Cuneo, Holmes, and Johnson expect to pick approximately 10 tons of the 2004 vintage Brunello Clone Sangiovese, at a yield of between one and one-and-a-half tons per acre.

Brunello Clone Wine to be Made With a Northwest Sensibility

Hand-harvested Brunello Clone grapes will be transported by refrigerated truck from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard in Washington to the Cuneo Cellars winery in Oregon. Though specific winemaking techniques can’t be fully determined until the characteristics of the harvested grapes are known, Cuneo does plan to use a gentle winemaking regime that emphasizes both intensive monitoring of fermentation, and an overall non-interventionist approach.

“In all aspects of this project we have spared no expense to ensure the best quality fruit—and I will do everything I can in the cellar to make the best possible wine,” says Cuneo. “But I also don’t want to do anything that will inhibit the natural expression of the Brunello Clone.”

Cuneo expects to learn a lot in this first commercial vintage of certified Brunello Clone Sangiovese. “What happens this year will only help me make better wine next year,” he says. “I am pursuing a long-term goal: to see just how great a wine this grape—one of the best Italy has to offer—can produce when grown and made in the Pacific Northwest.”

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About Cuneo Cellars: Established in 1993 with an exclusive focus on showing how red grapes express themselves in the Pacific Northwest, Cuneo has pioneered the introduction of Italian varietals to complement their Burgundy-, Bordeaux-, and Rhone-style red wines. Located midway between the Northwest’s warm climate growing regions of eastern Washington and southern Oregon, Cuneo Cellars works with the best vineyards to grow and make great wines of structure and complexity, as experienced through flavor and intensity, balance and length.


Cole Danehower

503-452-7030 office

503-753-8061 cell

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