Pinot Noir Precoce (Fruhburgunder)

Precoce from Cloud Mountain Farms
Precoce from Cloud Mountain Farms

I have talked about Fruhburgunder (Pinot Noir Precoce) before in this blog. I am very excited about the potential of this grape in the Puget Sound AVA. I think it could revolutionize grape growing west of the Cascade mountain in Washington state.

For those that haven’t heard of this clone let me give you a little background…

Pinot Noir Precoce or Fruhburgunder in German. Precoce means early in French and Fruhburgunder means early Burgundy in German.

I started hearing about this clone about 6-7 years ago when Gary Moulton at the WSU Mt. Vernon Agriculture Research Center started telling local growers that he had found this new (actually pretty old, but new to us) clone of Pinot Noir. It came from Germany and it ripened a full two weeks ahead of any other Pinot Noir clone. Needless to say, I was skeptical. I had been down this road before in my search for the holy grail of grapes.

Way back when I started this whole thing, one of the things that Jeff Jernegan and I started to do is try and find a red grape that would ripen before Pinot Noir in our climate. Many books said that St. Laurent and Zweigelt and Garanoir and so forth would ripen before Pinot Noir… but as the years went on we found out that nothing other than a few old French/American hybrids like Leon Millot (which makes OK wine, not great) ripened before Pinot Noir. In fact the old clone Pommard that Gerard Bentryn had planted at Bainbridge Island Vineyards was one of the best so far…

So, I turned my efforts into finding the earliest ripening clones of Pinot Noir. When I finally had to make a decision I planted Dijon clones 667 and 777 at Hollywood Hill Vineyards starting in 2004. They’ve done pretty good for me, but at that time Gary Moulton was starting to tell people that this clone of his was ripening a full two week before his other clones at Mt. Vernon, WA. I was intrigued and put in a few vines.

As time has gone on, people report that it’s a very weak growing vine with very small  amounts of fruit, which could be a candidate for closer spacing. I wouldn’t put it on rootstock here in the Puget Sound AVA just because we don’t seem to be getting phylloxera in this state and we don’t need to speed up ripening. But everyone universally is saying that Precoce does ripen up to two weeks earlier than the earliest Dijon clones and the wine is OK. The verdict is still out on quality but enough evidence is coming in that it is going to be a key grape in this region going forward.

In the meantime, I’ve always been worried about the fruit quality. An acquaintance of mine on Vancouver Island said it was a poor quality clone of Pinot Noir and people on the island were ripping it out. I couldn’t find any information to support that. Several commercial vineyards growing Precoce are coming online soon and barrels of wine will be made and we will finally know if we have something great or mediocre.

I was searching the web a few days ago for Precoce because I hadn’t looked for a year or so and wanted to see if anything popped. I found two recent entries from England about how good the wines from Precoce vines are here and here. So I have high hopes that this might just be the red grape for the Puget Sound AVA.