Research Press Release

Genetics: Origin of European wine grapes

Nature Communications

December 22, 2021

European wine grapes may have originated from the hybridization of western Asian-domesticated table grapes and local wild relatives, suggests a paper published in Nature Communications. The findings reveal insights into the history and genetic ancestry of European wine grapes.

Grapes have been cultivated for nearly four millennia in the eastern Mediterranean and two millennia in western Europe. However, the origin of European wine grapes, including varieties such as Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, is debated. Previous research has suggested that European wine grapes originated from the domestication of Europe’s own wild grape species, independent of domestication events in Western Asia.

Michele Morgante, Gabriele Di Gaspero and colleagues analyzed the genomes of 204 Vitis vinifera (common grape vine) to explore the origins of European wine grapes. The authors suggest that the grapes originated from a single domestication event in western Asia, most likely in the South Caucasus, followed by multiple rounds of inter-breeding with the European wild grape population. They also identified the genetic footprints for domestication and breeding selection, which determine the grapes used for today’s wine making. The authors observed similar levels of genetic diversity in wild grapes and in the varieties used for today’s wine making. Additionally, the findings suggest that Italy and France have the most genetic diversity among their cultivated grapevines of the European countries included in samples.


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