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Revealing the genetic ancestry of French grapevines

By 10th June 2019 No Comments

New research has revealed that that some grape varieties cultivated hundreds of years ago are still in use today.

The European grapevine (Vitis vinifera) was first domesticated 6,000 years ago and is often cultivated through cloning, which allows the lineage of vines to be traced as far back as seeds are available. Historical records show that grapevines were introduced to France by the Greeks in the sixth century BC but it was not until the first century BC, and the Roman occupation, that wine production spread across most of southern France. Thousands of varieties of grape have been recorded or identified through written records, but it has been difficult to link modern day varieties to their historic ancestors.


Image of vineyard by Pic Saint Loup Mountain in southern France. Image by S. Ivorra, CNRS/ISEM,

In this new study, the researchers led by Nathan Wales of the University of York in the UK and an international team of colleagues analyzed the genomes of 28 seeds from nine archaeological sites in France, dating from the Medieval period, Roman times and as far back as the Iron Age (510–475 BC). They found that all the samples were from domesticated varieties rather than wild grapevines, and that all samples were closely related to varieties used for wine production today. They identified one sample, dated to between 1050–1200 CE, which was a genetically identical to today’s “Savagnin Blanc’”, indicating that this variety has been cultivated in France for nearly 900 years.

Reference: Palaeogenomic insights into the origins of French grapevine diversity, Jazmín Ramos-Madrigal et al., Nature Plants.

The French members of the research team are from ISEM at the University of Montpellier, AGAP, URGI, Inrap, the Laboratoire TRACES, the Université de Franche Comté, and AMIS.

Read the article from the University of York.