Where did wine really come from? New research settles the debate!
A recent extensive genetic study has shed new light on the origins of wine grapes, challenging commonly held beliefs. Researchers analyzed roughly 2,500 domesticated and 1,000 wild grapevines, revealing surprising findings. Contrary to previous notions, grapes grew naturally across western and central Eurasia 400,000 years ago. Around 200,000 years ago, a cold, dry climate split the grape habitat into two isolated regions: western (Portugal, Spain, France) and eastern (Israel, Syria, Turkey, Georgia). About 56,000 years ago, the eastern region further divided into the Caucasus and western Asia.
The study also settled the debate on grape domestication. Table grapes were domesticated in western Asia around 11,000 years ago, with wine grapes domesticated in the Caucasus around the same time, although winemaking mastery in the Caucasus came about 2,000 or so years later. Early farmers migrating from western Asia to Iberia (Spain/Portugal) crossbred table vines with local wild grapevines, creating muscat grapes. These table grapes evolved into various wine grape varieties in different European regions.
However, it remains unclear why the Caucasus did not have a significant influence on European wine grapes, even though they had wine grapes at the same time as Western Asia. Migration from the Caucasus may have introduced vines, but genetic analysis suggests limited impact.
Over time, European grape growers crossbred various grapes (early crossbreeding likely started in Turkey/Israel) and destroyed any original vines used in the crossbreeding, making it challenging to trace specific wine varietals we have today back to their truest origins.