Largest-ever genetic analysis of grapevine varieties reveals how glacial cycles shaped grape domestication and the rise of wine

Peer-Reviewed Publication


In the largest ever genetic analysis of grapevine varieties, including samples from previously undocumented specimens in private collections, researchers provide new insights into how, when, and where wine and table grapevines were domesticated, which has been a longstanding question. “This work represents a major international collaborative effort, challenging to do in any circumstances but especially so given that we conducted it during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns,” said author Wei Chen, who will also participate in an embargoed briefing on this study this week.

Even though wine and grapes are very important culturally, when wine and table grapevines were domesticated, and where, has been difficult to confirm. This is largely because there haven’t been sufficiently wide genetic sequencing analyses on grapevine varieties. As a result, there are several standing hypotheses in the literature that remain uncertain. For example, researchers have thought the cultivated wine grapevine (Vitis vinifera) had a single domestication in Western Asia, from which all wine varieties stemmed, and that it happened before the advent of agriculture. They’ve also thought wine grapevines were cultivated before table grape grapevines. Now, a study by Yang Dong and colleagues pushes back on both ideas. Based on vast grapevine genetic data studied, their report shows there were two domestication events for the cultivated wine grapevine in two distinct places – Western Asia and the Caucasus region – separated during the last glacial advance. “Despite being separated by over 1000 [kilometers], the two domestication processes appear to have occurred contemporaneously with a high degree of shared signatures of selection on the same genes,” writes Robin Allaby in a related Perspective. What’s more, they showed that these domestication events took place 11,000 years ago – in line with the advent of farming, and about 4,000 years later than some studies have shown. The genetic data also suggest that wine and table grapes were cultivated at the same time – not the wine grapevine first. The authors also identify some genes involved in domesticating grapes – improving flavor and color and texture – that could help winemakers improve wine today and make varieties more resilient to climate change and other stresses. Among their findings, they uncover more about the genetics underlying white grape color, and the ancient muscat flavor; at least one allele underlying muscat flavor may be detrimental to plant health, they say.

To do this work, Dong and colleagues generated a high-quality chromosome level reference genome of wild grapevine progenitor Vitis sylvestris. They then re-sequenced more than 3,000 individual grapevine plant samples collected from wide geographic locations – including from wild locations and from private collections. “Our collaborators reached out to their connections and looked for old and local varieties,” said Chen. “For instance, a lot of the Armenia [samples] from old vineyards turned out to be undocumented varieties.” The multimedia related to this paper includes videos from several international collaborators reflecting on the study’s process and significance.

**This paper is related to an Annual Meeting Briefing for Science, titled “Largest-ever genetic analysis of grapevine varieties reveals how glacial cycles shaped grape domestication and the rise of wine,” to be held on March 2nd at 11:00 am US ET. You can access the briefing virtually here if you are registered for the AAAS Annual Meeting (Please add briefing link to your calendars).

NOTE: If you’d like to attend this and other briefings at the 2023 Annual Meeting and have not yet registered, please do so by March 1st [Register Here. At the Registration Access Code step, please enter PRESS.]**






Dual domestications and origin of traits in grapevine evolution



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John Hultquist
March 2, 2023 2:12 pm

I wonder if they say anything about “pruning” for quality?
This is pruning time in the Northern Hemisphere and the cold
and wind is slowing the process – central Washington State.
I’ll have to connect with still active members to get a hard copy.

March 2, 2023 3:14 pm

We planted muscat vines 2 years ago to improve the flavour of wine from undistinguished hardy white grapes. They are much less vigorous, but we hope for the first harvest this year.

Ron Long
March 2, 2023 4:32 pm

“Why would we drink white wine, are we going to paint”?

Peta of Newark
March 2, 2023 6:20 pm

Ahhhhh, Perfect Modern Science.
i.e. A humongous pile of minutia, trivia and utter irrelevance with the mandatory and tedious link to Climate.
Glacial cycles they say. Oh yeah. What glacial cycles have there been in the last 11,000 yrs?

Anyway: As best I understood grapevines, they are very adept at finding scarce soil nutrition and harvesting atmospheric water (vapour and dew) while producing copious amounts of sugar
iow. Perfect for sugar-addicted little critters living in borderline deserts

More: Not long ago was a neat little story of a young French woman who’d moved to England (London I think (##)) to live and work for a while.
It was her first experience of the UK and UK people

Everyone *knows* what The French are like and harbour a grudging admiration for how much alcohol they (reputedly) drink while remaining really really healthy.
Of course, for those who Want To Believe, it is the vino that makes them healthy

This young woman reported on her titter or facebork how she was gobsmacked at how much Ze Engleesh drank. She had no idea it was so much and ventured to ask:
How do you people actually function when you’re getting off your heads 4 and 5 times every week”

She got a reply, simply stating: “We don’t”

And just look at the UK right now. Look at Boris Johnson, who maybe didn’t engineer this train wreck, was certainly at the wheel asleep on the sofa when it happened.

Go right back in time to my first ever comments into here as an explanation for Climate Change =nothing if not consistant. Can anyone say that about drunks?

## If you visit London, The City especially, a major thing you will notice is that:
It Is Powered By Alcohol

Pat from Kerbob
Reply to  Peta of Newark
March 2, 2023 8:00 pm

Was in London in July
Wasn’t anywhere near as bad as Edinburgh from what I saw of drinking

March 2, 2023 8:00 pm

A bit too much taste testing? It’s common knowledge scientists should not endulge in the object of their study.

March 2, 2023 11:17 pm

What an excellent exercise in naval gazing!
I can tell you two things about these “researchers”.

  1. They have never actually grown something themselves, leaving them with a weird techno-religious view of the past, where some genius discovers something, and it spreads from there in an hierarchic process.
  2. They have never gone outside, walked around the wild, discovered berries, and, gods forbid, put the dirty things in their pretty little mouths to taste, precluding any possibility that ancient man made wine loooong before he ‘domesticated’ grapes.

I file this with all the other archaeological wisdoms these over-funded twerps come up with in lieu of actual thinking. I am actually surprised they have no appeal to divine authority, ‘proving beyond doubt’ the ritual origins of the hangover.
The little darlings will probably now ask money to dig up ancient corpses to analyse their gut content to see who discovered the first hangover cure.

Reply to  cilo
March 2, 2023 11:55 pm

Don’t like the evidence of the genetics do you, rather have the high class bulls&$# about wine pushed by wine snobs….not that they refute or question any of that

Reply to  Duker
March 3, 2023 3:29 am

1000k apart doesnt seem too far for a bird to crap or a dried fruit to be dropped to spread genes to me, doesnt seem they even thought of that?

Caleb Shaw
Reply to  Duker
March 3, 2023 7:15 am

“Genetic studies” are interesting, but we need to be skeptical regarding some of the conclusions. For example, 1000 years ago there were hairless dogs in Peru, and there are still hairless dogs in Peru, but when you get the hairs of modern dogs and compare them with 1000-year-old hairs, modern dogs have no, nada, zero, zilch genetic connection with their ancestors. Hmm.

Personally I think certain genetic indicators simply get washed out of the sample, over the process of time. 1000 years could involve as many as 500 generations of dogs. If you assume each generation has only half the indicators of each parent, and only a quarter the indicators of each grandparent, and only an eighth the indicators of each great-grandparent, the fraction of indicators gets really, really tiny by the time you get back to the great-x-500-grandparent.

Adell Davis, the old Black Panther activist and proponent of modern Critical Race Theory, recently found out she was a great-times-x-granddaughter of William Brewster, one of the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower. But that is according to paper records. It would be interesting to see what a “genetic study” showed.

Caleb Shaw
Reply to  Caleb Shaw
March 3, 2023 7:20 am

I suppose they can’t compare the hairs of hairless dogs. Must be skin samples.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Caleb Shaw
March 3, 2023 10:52 am

They were hairless.
Maybe somebody found their jeans?

Reply to  cilo
March 3, 2023 4:37 am

A typo needs correcting… it should state “God forbid” not “gods forbid”… there is only one God… I know cilo didn’t mean this as I typo all the time too but cilo will appreciate me righting this wrong. You’re welcome.

Last edited 2 months ago by goracle
Reply to  goracle
March 3, 2023 5:24 am

As an acoitheist, it is morally incumbent upon me to recognise all theists, without favour or ridicule.
Otherwise it would imply I actually give a f

Reply to  cilo
March 3, 2023 10:27 am

LOL.. guess i hit a sensitive nerve.

Reply to  goracle
March 3, 2023 8:10 pm

Oh, I don’t know… for hundreds of thousands (millions) of years, humankind has found the time and energy to worship thousands of ‘gods’, so no harm in saying “gods forbid”. The supposed one god, is definitely VERY recent in the scheme of things.

Reply to  sturmudgeon
March 4, 2023 7:45 pm

Sturm… oh, i dont know… maybe a guy comes along claiming he’s the one predicted in old texts regarding the one and only true God @ 1,500 years prior… and then makes good on that claim… so much so that many thousands follow him, religious leadsrs of his time call for his death, his closest inner circle of followers carryon his message most all being martyred in the process (even though they knew the consequences of preaching his message)… to the point we still remember his name 2,000 yrs later because his message is timeless… so, yes, the one God “scheme of things” is a relatively new thing, as u put it, because the previous multiple gods scheme was and is wrong… and, yes, the wrong cilo made using “gods” needed to be corrected. You’re welcome.

Last edited 2 months ago by goracle
March 3, 2023 12:35 am

I wonder how much wine was consumed during this study?

Alexy Scherbakoff
March 3, 2023 12:45 am

I like my grapevines domesticated and toilet trained.

March 3, 2023 3:27 am

muscatels are far nicer as a dried fruit;-)

Reply to  ozspeaksup
March 3, 2023 5:26 am

I seen dudes getting smashed on muscatel, dried fruit doesn’t half describe them…

Reply to  cilo
March 3, 2023 8:10 pm


joe x
March 3, 2023 5:24 am

on a lighter note, i enjoy a nice glass of malbec. i prefer dry red and white wine over sweet. for those here that visit the wineries of northern michigan, there is a wine named tempesta. on occasion the wife and i will sit down to a dinner of steak, potato, salad and fresh beans and kill a bottle. it is disney land on a plate.

Reply to  joe x
March 3, 2023 8:11 pm

“the wife” again. Dismal.

March 3, 2023 7:28 pm

This paper is related to an Annual Meeting Briefing for Science, titled “Largest-ever genetic analysis of grapevine varieties reveals how glacial cycles shaped grape domestication and the rise of wine,”

The best excuse ever for a massive wine tasting at the Annual Meeting!

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