Vitis vinifera (Common Grape Vine) is a species of Vitis, native to the Mediterranean region, central Europe, and southwestern Asia, from Morocco and Spain north to southern Germany and east to northern Iran.
It is a liana growing to 35 m tall, with flaky bark. The leaves are alternate, palmately lobed, 5–20 cm long and broad. The fruit is a berry, known as a grape; in the wild species it is 6 mm diameter and ripens dark purple to blackish with a pale wax bloom; in cultivated plants it is usually much larger, up to 3 cm long, and can be green, red, or purple. The species typically occurs in humid forests and streamsides.
The wild grape is often classified as V. vinifera subsp. sylvestris (in some classifications considered Vitis sylvestris), with V. vinifera subsp. vinifera restricted to cultivated forms. Domesticated vines have hermaphrodite flowers, but subsp. sylvestris is dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants) and pollination is required for fruit to develop.
Wild grapes were harvested by foragers and early farmers. For thousands of years, the fruit has been harvested for both medicinal and nutritional value; its history is intimately entwined with the history of wine.
Changes in pip shape (narrower in domesticated forms) and distribution point to domestication occurring about 3500-3000 BC, in southwest Asia or southern Transcaucasia (Armenia and Georgia). Cultivation of the domesticated grape spread to other parts of the Old World in pre-historic or early historic times.
Grapes followed European colonies around the world, coming to North America around the 1600s, and to Africa, South America and Australia. In North America it formed hybrids with species from Vitis genus native to that region; some of these were intentional hybrids created to combat Phylloxera, an insect pest which affected the European grapevine to a much greater extent than North American ones and in fact managed to devastate European wine production in a matter of years. Later North American rootstocks became widely used to graft V. vinifera cultivars so as to withstand the presence of phylloxera.
In North America, growing Vitis vinifera was limited mostly to the relatively mild West Coast starting in New Mexico and including California and The Pacific Northwest States. But due to the research of Konstantin Frank, it is now widely grown even in the harsher climate of New York State, western Michigan and southern Ontario. Dr. Helmut Becker's work in the early 1980s brought Vitis vinifera to the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.
In March 2007, scientists from Australia's CSIRO working in the Cooperative Research Centre for Viticulture reported they found that "extremely rare and independent mutations in two genes [VvMYBA1 and VvMYBA2] [of red grapes] produced a single white grapevine that was the parent of almost all of the world's white grape varieties. If only one gene had been mutated, most grapes would still be red and we would not have the more than 3000 white grape cultivars available today."
Use of grapes is known to date back to Neolithic times, following the discovery of 7,000 year-old wine storage jars in present-day northern Iran in 1996. Further evidence shows the Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians had vine plantations and wine-making skills. Greek philosophers praised the healing powers of grapes both whole and in the form of wine. Vitis vinifera cultivation and winemaking in China began during the Han Dynasty in the second century with the importation of the species from Ta-Yuan. However, wild vine "mountain grapes" like Vitis thunbergii were being used for wine making before that time.
Using the sap of grapevines, European folk healers sought to cure skin and eye diseases. Other historical uses include the leaves being used to stop bleeding, pain and inflammation of hemorrhoids. For treating sore throats unripe grapes were used, and raisins were given as treatments for consumption (tuberculosis), constipation and thirst. For the treatment of cancer, cholera, smallpox, nausea, skin and eye infections as well as kidney and liver diseases, ripe grapes were used.
Seedless grape varieties were developed to appeal to consumers, but researchers are now discovering that many of the healthful properties of grapes may actually come from the seeds themselves.
Grapevine leaves are filled with minced meat (such as lamb or beef), rice and onions in the making of Balkan traditional Dolma.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vitis vinifera.|
- Euro+Med Plantbase Project: Vitis vinifera
- Walker, A. R., Lee, E., Bogs, J., McDavid, D. A. J., Thomas, M. R., & Robinson, S. P. (2007). White grapes arose through the mutation of two similar and adjacent regulatory genes. The Plant Journal 49 (5): 772-785. Abstract.
- Finding the white wine difference  accessed 2 March 2007
- World's Earliest Wine
- Plocher, T; Rouse, G; Hart, M. (2003). Discovering Grapes and Wine in the Far North of China
- Eijkhoff, P. (2000). Wine in China; its history and contemporary developments.
- China Wine Online. The History of China Wine.
- Daniel Zohary, Maria Hopf (2000). Domestication of plants in the Old World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-850356-3. Authoritative source on evolution and domestication of the grapevine.
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