DNA fingerprinting reveals surprise in wine-grape family tree

Editors' Note: For digital images of Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Gouais blanc wine grapes, contact Patricia Bailey, pjbailey@ucdavis.edu

While sleuthing out the parentage of some of France?s finest wine-grape varieties, researchers at the University of California, Davis, discovered that somewhere in the distant viticultural past, royalty mingled with a commoner.

It came as little surprise when DNA fingerprinting techniques revealed that 16 venerable wine-grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Aligote and Gamay noir, are the direct offspring of the classic Pinot variety. But even the researchers were surprised to find that the obscure Gouais (goo-WAY) blanc, a variety considered so mediocre that it is no longer planted in France, is the other half of the parental pair.

UC Davis professor Carole Meredith, an authority on genetic manipulation and analysis of grapevines, and John Bowers, a genetics doctoral candidate at the time the research was conducted, report their findings in the September 3 issue of the journal Science.

"Not only is this finding historically intriguing, but it also has very practical significance both for preserving old and for developing new grapevine varieties," Meredith said.

"We now know that you can conserve the entire gene pool of these 16 classic varieties just by keeping the Pinot and Gouais blanc varieties," she explained. "And we?re reminded of the importance of crossing genetically diverse varieties to produce hardy offspring."

Meredith and her research group have been working for several years on genetically characterizing grape varieties so that California grape growers and vintners can be certain of which varieties they have. Two years ago, in the course of studying major wine-grape varieties maintained in the UC Davis vineyards, they discovered that the highly esteemed Cabernet Sauvignon wine grape is the offspring of the Cabernet franc and S

Contact: Patricia Bailey
University of California - Davis

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