The Multiple Origins of Wine Grapes

grapeAs we return to work this Monday, there’s a good chance that at least some of us celebrated the weekend with a glass of wine or two. Wine has established itself as a drink of choice across the world for thousands of years, and a study published last week investigated its domestication, which may help us learn how this beverage so permeated our history.

The grapes now harvested for winemaking are not those originally found growing wild millennia ago; they reached their current state through domestication. The authors of the current study focused on two previously unresolved questions about this process: did it proceed quickly or slowly, and in one place or across a broad area?

The researchers investigated archaeobotanical samples from ancient Roman settlements in Southern France, a key winemaking region. Previous work has shown that grapevines were domesticated in the far-away Caucuses at least 4,000 years prior to the time the authors were investigating. Nonetheless, the researchers found evidence for active domestication in their French samples as well. Based on this analysis, they conclude that grapevine domestication was a slow, ongoing process occurring in many different locations.

The winemakers of the time were flexible, though; as domestication was ongoing, they used any and all grape varietals available to practice their craft. These days just a few cultivars are the main sources of wine grapes around the world, yet vintners manage to produce a very wide range of products, so we can only imagine the variety these early winemakers might have produced with such an array of pre-domestication options.

Citation: Bouby L, Figueiral I, Bouchette A, Rovira N, Ivorra S, et al. (2013) Bioarchaeological Insights into the Process of Domestication of Grapevine (Vitis vinifera L.) during Roman Times in Southern France. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63195. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063195

Image: Julianna on flickr

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