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For the town in Australia, see Vinifera, Victoriamarker

Vitis vinifera (Common Grape Vine) is a species of Vitis, native to the Mediterranean region, central Europe, and southwestern Asia, from Moroccomarker and Spainmarker north to southern Germanymarker and east to northern Iranmarker.

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.

It is cultivated on every continent on Earth except for Antarcticamarker. In Europe, in the central and southern regions; in Asia, in the western regions (Anatoliamarker, Caucasus, Middle east) and in Chinamarker; In Africa, along the northern Mediterraneanmarker coast and in South Africa; in North America, in Californiamarker, Mexicomarker and also other areas like (New Mexicomarker, New Yorkmarker, British Columbiamarker, Canadamarker); in South America in Chilemarker, Argentinamarker, Uruguaymarker and Brasilmarker; in Oceania in Australia and New Zealandmarker.


The appearance of Vitis vinifera on earth has been dated to between 130 to 200 million years ago. Mankind’s relationship to this plant dates to the Neolithic period.

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 South Caucasus (Armeniamarker and Georgiamarker). Cultivation of the domesticated grape spread to other parts of the Old World in pre-historic or early historic times.

The first written accounts of grapes and wine can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh and ancient Sumerian text from the third millennium BCE. There are also numerous hieroglyphic references from ancient Egypt, according to which wine was reserved exclusively for priests, state functionaries and the pharaoh.

Grape harvest on Etruscan terracotta from the VI century a.C.

The ancient Greeks introduced grape growing and wine making to Europe in the Minoan age. Hesiod in his Works and Days gives detailed descriptions of grape harvests and wine making techniques, and there are also many references in Homer. Greek colonists then introduced these practices in their colonies, especial in southern Italy (Magna Grecia), which was even known as “Enotria” due to its propitious climate.

The Etruscans improved wine making techniques and developed an export trade even beyond the Mediterranean basin.

The ancient Romans further developed the techniques learnt from the Etruscans, as shown by numerous works of literature containing information that is still valid today: De Agri Cultura by Cato the Elder, De re rustica by Marcus Terentius Varro, the Georgics by Virgil and De re rustica by Columella.

During the third and fourth centuries AD, the long crisis of the Roman Empire generated instability in the countryside which led to a reduction of viticulture in general, which was mainly sustained only close to towns and cities and along coastlines.

Between the fifth and tenth centuries, viticulture was sustained almost exclusively by the different religious orders in monasteries. The Benedictines and others extended the grape growing limit northwards and also planted new vineyards at higher altitudes than was customary before. Apart from ‘ecclesiastical’ viticulture, there also developed, especially in France, a ‘noble’ viticulture, practiced by the aristocracy as a symbol of prestige.
Vineyard (Burgundy)

Grape growing was a significant economic activity in the Middle east up to the seventh century, when the expansion of Islam caused it to decline.

Between the Low Middle Ages and the Renaissance, viticulture took off again. Demographic pressure, population concentration in towns and cities and increased spending power of artisans and merchants gave rise to increased investment in viticulture, which became economically feasible once again.

A lot of literature was also written during the Renaissance period on grape growing and wine production, favouring a more scientific approach, and can be considered as the origin of modern ampellography.

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 native species from the Vitis genus; 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 the second half of the twentieth century there was a shift in attitude in viticulture from traditional techniques to the scientific method based on fields such as microbiology, chemistry and ampelography. This change came about also due to changes in economic and cultural aspects and in the way of life and in the consumption habits of wide sectors of the population starting to demand quality products.

Nature magazine has published the genome sequence of V. vinifera. This work was the result of collaboration between Italian researchers (Consorzio Interuniversitario Nazionale per la Biologia Molecolare delle Piante, Istituto di Genomica Applicata) and French researchers (Genoscopemarker e Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique). Vitis venifera is the fourth angiosperm species whose genome has been completely sequenced. The results of this analysis contribute significantly to understanding the evolution of plants over time and of the genes involved in the aromatic characteristics of wine.

In March 2007, scientists from Australia's CSIRO working in the Cooperative Research Centre for Viticulture reported that 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 in 1996 of 7,000 year-old wine storage jars in present-day northern Iranmarker. Further evidence shows the Mesopotamians and Ancient Egyptians had vine plantations and winemaking skills. Greek philosophers praised the healing powers of grapes both whole and in the form of wine. Vitis vinifera cultivation and winemaking in Chinamarker 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. Unripe grapes were used for treating sore throats, and raisins were given as treatments for consumption (tuberculosis), constipation and thirst. Ripe grapes were used for the treatment of cancer, cholera, smallpox, nausea, skin and eye infections as well as kidney and liver diseases.

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, thanks to their enriched phytochemical content.

Grapevine leaves are filled with minced meat (such as lamb or beef), rice and onions in the making of Balkan traditional dolma.

A grapevine is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 2 lipa coin, minted since 1993.

See also


  • Manzi Luigi, La viticoltura e l'enologia al tempo dei romani, Er. Botta, Roma 1883
  • Marescalchi Arturo, Dalmasso Giovanni, Storia della vite e del vino in Italia, 3 voll., Unione Italiana Vini, Milano 1931-33-37

  1. Euro+Med Plantbase Project: Vitis vinifera
  2. 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.
  3. Finding the white wine difference [1] accessed 2 March 2007
  4. Plocher, T; Rouse, G; Hart, M. (2003). Discovering Grapes and Wine in the Far North of China
  5. Eijkhoff, P. (2000). Wine in China; its history and contemporary developments.

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