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December 9, 2006

History of European Grape Cultivars

I've written previously about the background of 'Norton'/'Cynthiana', one of the most venerable American wine grape varieties. But even the oldest of American cultivars is young compared to the great cultivars of Europe, many of which are many hundreds of years old. The origins of such grapes are even murkier, originating in an era before even the faintest inklings of genetics, before most of the people involved were even literate.

Carole Meredith, working at the University of California at Davis, has spent many years trying to deduce the history of these varieties through genetic testing. She's deduced parentages of many cultivars, but her most widely publicized discovery was that 'Chardonnay' was in fact a seedling of 'Pinot noir' and 'Gouais blanc', a nearly forgotten white cultivar of mediocre quality.

The link below is to an article from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, describing her work to date (it's from 2003):

Science as a Window Into Wine History
(American Academy of Arts and Sciences)

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