The grape variety: its origins

Sep 11, 2020 | Non classé

This month we will devote ourselves to the origin of the grape varieties, a subject a little sharp 🙂. You should know that there is not one but several origins of the grape variety. Why is that? Well simply because we are talking about historical origin, geographical combined with genealogical origin. It is these three different points that will help us understand how we get this or that grape variety.

Come on, let's focus…

Above all… What is a grape variety?

It is a cultivated grape variety of the Vitis-vinifera species.

A grape variety is born from an organic process: sexual reproduction. That is to say that there will be fertilization between two flowers which will give a new seed. So we get a new plant and a new grape variety. For example, Pinot and Goué are the relatives of Chardonnay and Gamay. Yet they are two totally different grape varieties.

A grape variety can also mutate, which will lead it to become a new grape variety. We can take the example of Pinot Noir, which has become gray and white. These are three distinct grape varieties that are nevertheless from the same basic grape variety.

 

The species vitis-vinifera

In the vitis-vinifera genus, we will note different stages of "creation" of grape variety. First of all we note the wild species: the lambrusques (female and male sexes, rounded seeds). Then it is the turn of the domesticated or cultivated, the sativas (hermaphrodites with periform, elongated seeds). Then there is an acclimatization of the grape varieties and finally the travels of these that gives different species in the world.

However, we must be attentive to the character of domestication. There is domestication that differs from post-domestication.

 

Domestication

Primary domestication refers to the appearance of the domesticated vine in the South Caucasus, in present-day Georgia, about 6 to 8,000 years ago. Grapes are one of the first fruits to have been domesticated after cereals. Thanks to the combination of the work of the archaeologist and genetics, we manage to extract traces of seeds in particular and winemaking in jars, or pollen residues. European grape varieties are sometimes genetically closer to Georgian lambrusques than to those of their own country.

Secondary domestication, on the other hand, is the cross between a grape variety of first domestication with other grape varieties of the country that have given local grape varieties. All this explains the adaptation of grape varieties to different terroirs, climates and soils. So we manage to get what we call nowadays "terroir wines"!

In addition, we distinguish the different morphologies of the grapes: that of table: large berry, loose bunches; that of tank: small rounded bay, compact cluster.

 

Let's venture into the historical origin of the grape variety…

For this, we seek to understand the denomination of the grape varieties and we focus on the morphological or genetic identification of it.

Namely that until the Middle Ages it was impossible for us to link the names of grape varieties to those we know today. There is no evidence. It is from the Middle Ages that we will be able to follow their history.

However! Some important problems to identify arise…

We speak of ampelographic synonymy, that is to say that the same grape variety can be designated by several synonyms, and therefore different names while they are the same.

We also talk about ampelographic homonymy, that is, different grape varieties, from different places, have the same name and lead to great confusion. For example, Grey Riesling from the United States is not the same grape variety as our Rhine Riesling in France.

Finally, we talk about toponyms, here they are grape varieties that bear place names, such as Blue Portuguese, but which do not come from this region. Indeed the Portuguese Blue is an Austrian grape variety. It is therefore necessary to pay attention to the origin of the grape variety which is different from its name.

It is very important to identify these varietal, morphological and genetic differences in order to prevent these problems and better understand the grape variety being studied. Ampelography makes it possible to understand how a grape variety from one region has become the same grape variety but with a totally different name in another region of the world.

 

From a geographical origin point of view…

So we understood that it was difficult to rely on the name of the grape variety. In order to understand their geographical origin, we base ourselves on groups of grape varieties according to their morphology, and in particular their leaves!

Indeed, the leaf is very important, it is a bit the "face" of the vine. At the local level, it will therefore allow ampelographers to form groups of grape varieties according to their morphological proximity.

There are also micro-satellite markers that make it possible to reposition grape varieties that were thought to be indigenous and that turn out to be genetically from another region (especially the Caucasus).

From a genealogical point of view…

It's a small step but not the least! We are talking about crosses, natural or intentional.

Morphological logic helps us to understand genealogical logic, which helps us to understand the history of the grape variety. For example, Merlot is the son of Cabernet Franc and Madeleine Noire des Charentes. It is therefore the Cabernet Franc that is the oldest in the Bordeaux region! We then understand the interconnections between the families of grape varieties. It is important to take into account all grape varieties, even those that are in danger of extinction or few in number, because they are just as important to understand the origin of the grape variety.

See you soon for new news!

 

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