THE ORIGINS OF GRAPE VARIETIES
Imeretia Valley in what is now Georgia. Late September around 6000 B.C. Dawn. A small group, all belonging to the same tribe, ventured into a deep fog, common in the subtropical summers near the Dead Sea.
Amid the dense vegetation, the group of Neolithic (Neolithic B, to be precise) hunters and gatherers noticed a type of climbing bush with vines almost thirty meters in length! Berries hung from the vines, notable for their size and variety of alluring colors.
Someone soon realized that these berries not only tasted good, but could also be stored in caves along with other kinds of food. Provisions for the harsh winter ahead. Dried and raisiny, the fruit was astoundingly sweet and unlike anything they’d eaten before.
The group of tribes people soon learned to identify the moment when the fruit was at its ripest and ready for picking. This marked the beginning of what is now known as viticulture.
In fact, the domestication of wild grapevines and their subsequent varietal identification stands out among the factors that converged in the shift from a nomadic to a sedentary culture.
Identification, migration, hybridization
Sedentary culture began in Transcaucasia (the region extending from Southern Europe to Asia Minor [Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan]) and then spread to other parts of the world.
And, like we said, viticulture played an important role. Winegrowing began with wild vines of the Lambrusca family. It is a female plant that produces tart fruit high in acidity. Over the years, it mutated into a hermaphrodite better suited to cultivation. The protagonists of our story developed ancient techniques to propagate the plants by cuttings and then trained them through pruning.
Thus, the varieties we know today originate from these Lambrusca vines, selected over the course of countless years.
The first mass migrations of people toward the south (Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon) and then westward (Greece and the Roman Empire) multiplied the number of varieties as they adapted to a new climatic context.
Over millennia, these primitive varieties were cross-bred, mutated and hybridized with indigenous varieties in each region, creating new, more productive and resistant species with clear enological intent.
An introduction to classification
Atendiendo a la clasificación de las vides originadas en la cuenca mediterránea, y realizada por el profesor ruso Negrul, se distinguen tres grupos diferentes denominados proles:
- Proles Pontica. This group includes all the original vines from Greece, Romania, Hungary, Georgia and Asia Minor. They all arose from the Lambruscas of Transcaucasia. Saperavi, Vermentino, Furmint and Clarette are among their modern varietal relatives.
- Proles Orientalis. These varieties originated in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Afghanistan. They are characterized by large clusters and berries and are used to make table wines or raisins. This group includes varieties like Ohanes, Sultanina, Muscat of Alexandria or Cinsaut.
- Proles Occidentalis. We now venture into familiar territory. These varieties have their roots in Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and Germany. Small, round berries in dense, medium-sized clusters. This varietal family has been used for thousands of years to craft the finest still wines. Cabernet, Pinot, Chardonnay, Riesling, etc.
As you can see, our modern-day varieties, which are so different from their wild ancestors, are the result of sedentary cultures and early farming, human migrations, and crossbreeding between “traveling” and indigenous varieties.
Ever since then, we have striven to be true to our environment and our past, drawing on these roots that protect and inspire us to innovate and work toward a wine world that shares a respectful and harmonious coexistence with our land.
- The World Atlas of Wine Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson. Published by BLUME
- Pasión por el Vino. Joan C. Martín. Published by LINCE
- Enología Práctica. Jaques Blouin, Émile Peynaud. Published by MUNDI- PRENSA