The Grape Grandma: Vitis Vinifera

At some point in your wine-loving life, you may have heard the words vitis vinifera. If you’re like me, you screeched to a halt and refused to remember nightmarish days spent in high school biology class. Genus? Species? No! Make it stop!

Just want to like wine and not think about it? Well,  just because you weren’t the greatest at bio doesn’t mean you can’t pack a lil’ grape info into that adult brain of yours. If I can do it, so can you.

Picture an adorable Grandmother. Her name is Vitis Vinifera. (It’s weird, but play along.) Her first name: Vitis. In science-y terms, that is her “genus.” Vinifera is her “species.” Those two words combined account for about 90% of the world’s cultivated wine grapes!


Pretty much every wine you’ve ever consumed has been made with grapes that belong to the Vitis Vinifera family. Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, even little wacky ones like Gewürztraminer and Plavac Mali; they’re all the children of Granny Vinifera. She literally has thousands of offspring. Damn, granny!

How did she get all these kids? Well, grapes can actually take care of “business” on their own. Grape vines have been known to do crazy things, like spontaneously change the color of the fruit they produce. These types of mutations occur on their own, and over time they form distinct enough characteristics to be considered grapes of different varieties. Cross-pollination can also help speed up this process.

Humans, not to be outdone, can also help out. When have we not meddled in pretty much everything? As soon as people started exploring new continents (gah! we’re back in high school!) they brought grape vines along with them and planted ‘em. Wouldn’t that be the first thing you’d pack? Duh! Cuttings actually can survive and be planted in new homes.

Such is the beginning of the propagation of grapevines all over the globe! As Vitis’ kids mutated, moved and swapped pollen the wide world of varieties began to develop. But, it all began with that one source. So whether you’re sipping on classics like Merlot or little known grapes like Babol… pour a little out for vitis.

There are thousands and thousands varieties of grape, but they all share one awesome grandma. It’s kind of messed up if you think about it too long, but for the most part, it’s really damn cool.



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