Our dear friend Martin Texier wrote a little text on Serine, Syrah and Selection Massale. Here it is:
About Serine, selection massale and clones.
I see many people wondering what "Serine" is. A clone, a variety, just Syrah ? None of it. First, where does a variety come from, what is it ? Before phylloxera vinegrowers used to plant seeds, grow new grapes (some very few people still do it today). Each plant coming from a seed is a new genetically unique individual plant. A variety is defined only by the carachteristics the plant will figure due to its genes (leaf shape, grape color, taste etc. - it is a human concept). Therefore within a single variety there can be a sum of geneticaly different plants that fit in the variety as long as they fit in the defined criterias.
Then of course, not all plants in one parcel are genetically different. Once vinegrowers have identified a plant that fits their criterias and made sure that it is productive enough they would do cuttings and reproduce them. In a given parcel with different individual plants, identifying, selecting and reproducing different plants is doing a "selection massale".
The second step is repducing those selected individual to hundreds. That is making "clones". Parcels where planted with a blend of cuttings made from hundred of different plants that fit in the criterias, generally plants coming for a crossing of plants coming from the same "family" of plants that make the variety. Then the new seeds coming from a same family of plants would still fit in the same variety, but creating new plants within a same family can also help making new selection massales that can be more productive, more resistant to hydric stress, oidium, mildiew, etc.
Today most parcels are planted with a few selected clones. You can look into a plant grower's (pépiniériste) catalogue and find "Syrah : clone xy11, clone zy22, etc" (i'm inventing the numbers of course). Those are selected individuals and parcels will be planted with thousands of one or two single clones.
Coming back to Serine : it is not a variety. It is a name, that has been given two different varieties, being different group of plants grown in different valleys, different villages, by different growers but all fitting more or less in the same caracteristics. These same groups where sometimes called Serine, sometime Syrah, Ciras, Petite Serine etc, while Petite Serine or Serine may have been used in some places to describe slightly different varieties, coming from cousin or parent plants and then developped into making their own varieties. The name Syrah includes all these differents plants that fit in its description.
Same can be said of Pinot and many other varieties.
Serine is neither a clone since it's not single individual but a family of plants.
So Serine isn't Syrah either, but fits in the big family of Syrah.
The name Serine was local to the northern Rhone Valley but also all the valleys coming into the Rhone (like our Ouvèze Valley and in Brézème).
But our Serine will not be the same as another producer's Serine, from a different place. And our Serine in St Julien is different from the one we have in Brézème.
Every selection massale parcel is a treasure because it is a library of old different plants. Today vinegrowers should at least reproduce these old parcels and make selection massale from these parcels to keep this rich genetic variety. It is not always easy since the tools and the knowledge has fade out a lot for non professional pépiniériste, which is most vinegrowers (at least it is not teached in vinegrowing schools).
Our Serine in St Julien has very unique carachteristics (not like any clone I know and different from all other Syrah I have seen), with bigger grapes, lighter skin color, less cone-shaped and more lousy grapes. It makes soft wines with very light tannins and hardly goes over 12°, sometimes 12,5° in very hot years. The one we have in Brézème is closer to classic Syrah.
In conlusion : our serine is our serine, that's it.