Today's Popular Wine Grapes All Descended From 1st Domesticated Variety

Posted: Dec 26, 2021

Many of the varieties of grapes used in today's wines are hundreds of years old. Genetic analysis shows that although these vines were first cultivated in Western Europe, new research confirms that every popular wine grape shares an ancestor. All of today's well-known varieties descended from the first domesticated grapes, which were developed and grown in western Asia about 4,000 years ago, according to research recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

"We were able to show that the best way to describe cabernet, merlot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, is to think of them as derived from a domestication that took place in Asia," said Michele Morgante, one of the study's authors and a plant geneticist at the Institute of Applied Genetics and the University of Udine, both in Italy.

The genomes of the roughly 100 popular varieties of wine grapes the researchers evaluated did not indicate any independent domestication events. That means the ancestor of today's wine grapes was first domesticated in Asia, and later moved toward the Mediterranean and across southern Europe, then northward from there.

Careful breeding over centuries led to larger grapes and bunches of fruit and reduced the number and size of seeds. As the grapes moved from Asia throughout Europe, this often involved hybridizing already-domesticated grapes with local wild varieties of the fruit, which in some cases helped wine grapes adapt to new environments and conditions.

"There are varieties that are still used to make wine, both in France as well as in Italy, that are direct progenies of a cross between a cultivated variety and a wild individual," said Morgante.

Author: Chris Gorski
Date: December 25, 2021
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