Melon de Bourgogne in Oregon State
Melon de Bourgogne first came north from California in ~1978 to
Stewart Vineyard in Dayton, Oregon. (Not sure where he got his
plants.) They believed they were planting Pinot Blanc; they used a
head trained method and had about 3 acres of this grape.
Ken Wright was the owner/winemaker for Panther Creek Cellars in the
late 1980's. From an email I exchanged with him in Aug-2004:
[Stewart Vineyard] sold the fruit for many years as Pinot
Blanc but when I visited the site during the growing season the
morphology of the leaves didn't look like Pinot Blanc. I sent leaf
samples overnight to ampelographer Lucy Morton in Virginia asking her
to identify the variety without telling her what I thought it was.
She got back to me the next day to say that without doubt the variety
was Melon de Bourgogne.
The Stewarts have since sold their vineyard to the Baldwins; I believe
they still produce the Melon de Bourgogne that Panther Creek continues
to release today. Between 1989 and 1993 the Panther Creek wines were
made by Ken Wright, and were barrel fermented to dryness and aged on
the lees until bottling in late spring.
All of this confirmed what Pierre Galet had asserted on his visit to
California in 1979 or so. When looking at Pinot Blanc vineyards in
Monterey County he was sure that they were in fact Melon de Bourgogne.
He didn't find a true Pinot Blanc vine in all of California which
pointed to an error by
UC Davis Foundation Plant Service
when bringing in the variety.
As far as I know we [Panther Creek] were the first in the country to
properly label the grape Melon de Bourgogne beginning in 1989.
Ken Wright sold Panther Creek to Ron Kaplan in 1994, and started his
own winery Ken Wright
Cellars. Ken Wright Cellars (the winery) has not produced a Melon
de Bourgogne as the grape source was part of the package Ken sold to
Ron with Panther Creek.
In 1966, David Lett left U. C. Davis and started The Eyrie Vineyards
in Oregon state. According to
Wine Business Monthly Sep-2000 (article is too old to be on their website)
Among the cuttings he brought up from Davis, Lett Planted what he
was told was Pinot blanc. It has turned out that most Davis-sourced
Pinot blanc should really have been labeled Melon, a varietal with
roots in Burgundy (Melon de Bourgogne), now best known by the
Muscadet Appellation of the Loire Valley. Lett, though, thinks the
cuttings he brought up to Oregon are really Chardonnay. "The plant
shows a naked vein and looks like a clone of Chardonnay. It tastes
like Chardonnay and I blend mine into Chardonnay. The plant bears
no resemblence to any Pinot variety," says Lett.
That Pinot blanc controversy sent David Adelsheim to Colmar to
obtain plant material. Adelsheim made a trip to Alsace in 1975 and
arranged to send back to Oregon State University samples of all of
the region's grape varieties, including the then never-seen true
Pinot blanc. True Pinot blanc wasn't bottled in Oregon until 1988
by Cameron, followed by
Adelsheim in 1989.