Hybrids, Crosses, and Clones: The Future of Wine

Hybrids, Crosses, and Clones: The Future of Wine

I love the wine business. It’s a business that is ever-changing—the trends, the climate, and the new generations of vignerons opening themselves up to the current growing seasons always generate experimentation and innovation.


In this dynamic age of winemaking, it has become perfectly acceptable to have your own unique opinions about wine preferences. With social media at our fingertips, posting about the brands one loves has become the norm—and that extends to wine. Do you like Champagne, or are you the kind of consumer that thinks it gives you a headache? Do you like extracted red fruit with lots of new oak and high alcohol, or are you a diehard fan of the classics, with their lower alcohol, restrained oak, and purity of fruit? Or are you a young millennial who will only drink up natural wine, because you’re aware of all the precious gifts Mother Nature has bestowed upon us? Preference matters, and taste matters, and beginning to trust your palate is how you know you’ve embarked on your journey into the wonderful world of wine. It’s a journey that can be more exploratory than ever given the dynamic state of the wine world.


The growing experimentation in the wine industry is more than just a creative pursuit—in many ways, the future of wine depends on wine’s evolution, and the latest innovations in wine are often conceived out of the need to adapt. Hybridization is just one example. In the context of wine, a “hybrid” refers to a vine or grape created by breeding two varieties. Sometimes it refers to a cross achieved by breeding two varieties of the same species or genus, like in the case of the Mueller-Thurgau grape, which is a cross between two Vitis vinifera grapes: Riesling and Sylvaner. Hybrids are manufactured to produce a plant that has all the best traits of its parents, and they allow winemakers to produce grapes that are best suited to certain climates or environments. Take the Marquette grape for instance, which was bred at the University of Minnesota in 2006 for cool climate producers in North America. This seems reasonable, right? Not everyone would agree—for some, interfering with nature is unacceptable, but I’ll reiterate how I feel: it’s important to have your own opinions about wine. A certain level of open mindedness and experimentation is necessary in the world of wine—without innovation, the future of the industry looks grim, especially now that the effects of global warming are not simply looming, but rather part of our daily reality. While I love the traditions of the wine business, it is, after all, a business, and moving in the direction of experimentation (within limits) is a good thing for the future of wine. 


I remember when I first started to learn about winemaking and everything that goes into it. I had the incredible opportunity to spend four years collaborating with Hirsch Winery on the Sonoma Coast of California to create a Pinot Noir blend for the restaurant I worked in at the time. During one visit to the winery, David Hirsch—my Yoda of the wine world—started telling me about the various clones of Pinot Noir he was experimenting with. Cloning is carried out to reproduce plants with distinct, desirable characteristics for growth, such as disease resistance or high productivity. After Hirsch described his latest experiments, we hopped into one of the winery tractors to explore the results.


As we rode across 80 acres on the top of the Sonoma Coast, Hirsch explained the trials and tribulations of planting certain clones of Pinot Noir on different soil types with different exposures to the sun. The many complex layers that go into his wine was starting to become exposed, this was no longer just a singular Pinot Noir. He had spent years mapping out the geography, and I was fascinated. Jasmine Hirsch was fascinating too. She was responsible for another angle of this beautiful winery: the business part. Jasmine led us in crafting the blend of Pinot Noir for the restaurant. Each barrel contained a different clone of Pinot Noir from a specific area of the vineyard: Some of the unblended wine had been aged in neutral oak (not imparting flavor); some had been aged in new French oak; some had been aged in oak that was one year old. Then the fun began: Jasmine and her team began to devise a wine that achieved exactly what I wanted to highlight, from the elegant fruit to the mouth feel. I loved being a part of this process, as it brought to light the real technical aspect of crafting wine. Clones are important, and being able to use hybrid grapes to craft wine in regions being affected by global warming is important. This kind of scientific intervention is the way of the future, as is the expert farming and biodynamic practices that Hirsch Vineyard is known for. This is how the wine business can continue to thrive in an increasingly uncertain world.



Wines From Our Tasting:

Kisvin Koshu Reserve Yamanashi, Japan 2017:

Yoshiro Okihawa, a third-generation grape farmer in Japan, inherited the family business from his father in 2002, and since then has been focused on viticulture. In 2005, he formed Team Kisvin, a group of specialists devoted to the winery’s production and success. First, they started selling fruit, but they have been producing their own wines since 2014. Possessing only five hectares of land in Enzan, Koshu City, Yamanashi Prefecture, and Katsunuma District, crafting these wines requires strict daily management of the vines and soil.


Koshu is a white grape grown primarily in the Koshu Valley in Japan. It is known to be a naturally occurring hybrid—a cross between Vitis vinifera and one or more East Asian Vitis species.


The color of the wine is golden. On the nose, there are hints of musk, limestone, and wet rocks. On the palate: a bit spicy and short acidity. This wine shows more earth elements as opposed to fruit elements with nice roundness. I found that the wine was not very expressive in all of its parts. This wine is known to be good with Japanese cuisine, and it is a rare wine that is fun to open and explore. 


La Garagista ‘Dame Jeanne’ Rouge Vermont, 2019:

La Garagista Farm and Winery was started in 1999, first to support Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber’s restaurant Osteria Pane e Salute. But in 2017, Heekin and Barber closed the restaurant to focus exclusively on the farm and winery, and to support the holistic approach to biodiversity that they were fostering there. Located on Mount Hunger at the edge of a forest in the hills in Barnard, Vermont, the winery is known for making alpine wine. The La Garagist website explains their process: “Our fruit is handpicked and sorted, foot crushed through pigéage. We employ glass demijohns and old barrels; flex tanks, and an anfora. We rely on the wild yeast found on our fruit, the result of a happy marriage of field and fermentation. We use little to no sulfite at bottling. It depends on the wine and the season.”


The wine we tasted is made from the Marquette grape, which is an inter-species hybrid red grape grown on clay and limestone soils with wild yeasts and no added sulfites. The Marquette grape was developed at the University of Minnesota and introduced in 2006. This is the foremost cold-climate creation, and it is resistant to mildew and rot.


This wine has a stunning and remarkably unique color— it is magenta and blue-hued, and the flesh of the grape had an equally dark pigment. For being so bold to the sight, this is a surprisingly low alcohol wine. On the nose, there is cranberry and red currants for fruit, and a little sweet tart on the palate with a savory musky note. Although this wine is very interesting, it seems to be a work in progress. The sum of this wine is that it is a whisper, not a roar.




If you would like to buy these two wines please contact Shiraz Noor at Acker Wines. LBV Social Club members get a discount through our partnership!


Claire Paparazzo is an LBV Social Club member who also leads some of the Club's wine tastings. This is her reflection on the tasting that took place on February 11th, 2021. Find her on Instagram at @clairepaparazzo and @wineifyouwantto.


First photo by Anisa Sabet


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