Grapes… yet another plant species that has largely co-evolved with human beings. Today grapes can be found, in some form or another, at all ends of the earth… They are thought to have originated somewhere in the vicinity of E. Europe, Middle East, N. Africa. Here’s an interesting recent article from Discovery News discussing the 8,000 year history of grape domestication and cultivation… you can harken back to the article the next time you have a glass of wine, or eat table grapes.
Wine Grapes Aged for Centuries
by Tim Wall
Vintners age the best wines, and it seems the grape vine itself took ages to domesticate.
Genetic analysis suggests grapes were probably first cultivated in southwest Asia during the Neolithic, approximately 8,000 years ago. However, archeological evidence suggests thousands of years passed during which many cultivated grape vines in Europe still produced smaller grapes and lower yields than the thoroughly domesticated grape subspecies, Vitis vinifera vinifera.
The remnants of grapes grown in southern France under the Roman Empire provide evidence that domestication of the plant proceeded slowly in the region between 50 BC and 500 AD. At 17 sites in two wine producing regions of ancient France, winery waste showed a mixture of wild-type and domesticated grapes. Over centuries, a greater proportion of the grape showed signs of being artificially selected for greater size and productivity. The study was published in PLOS ONE.
The archeologists used preserved grape seeds to determine the vines degree of domestication. Domesticated grapes tend to have more elongated seeds than their wild cousins, Vitis vinifera sylvestris, as well as other shape and flavor differences. Grape growers weren’t breeding their grapes for seed shape, though. The shape came as a result of selectively growing vines with larger, more oval fruits, which also had elongated seeds, according to the study. However, the authors noted other unknown pressures also may have driven changes in grapes as they were domesticated.
Greeks first planted grapes in southern France around their colony named Massalia (now Marseille) in approximately 600 BC. The Greeks made a fortune trading their wine with the Celts to the north. However grape cultivation changed dramatically after Romans overtook the region and started making wine from the conquered grapes.