The Vitis vinifera grape is certainly one of the oldest of cultivated plants for which living progenitors still exist. The wide geographic range of the wild sylvestris and a bewildering number of different forms stretching from the western end of the Mediterranean basin to east of the Caspian Sea (see Maps 2.1 and 16.1, this volume) have intrigued historians and naturalists alike. The crucial question that has been posed is what is the relationship between these widely scattered populations to the origin and domestication of this grapevine? In addressing this question, one observation can easily be verified and needs to be stressed: the wild vines are disappearing at an alarming rate, and their study and preservation therefore should be given high priority. Within these wild populations and their derivatives are all the genes which have been juggled to produce the most civilized and enjoyable of all beverages-fine wine. Hopefully some of the ideas presented here may stimulate much-needed study of these gene resources, which can tell much more of the past and enlighten the future.
The grape genus Vitis comprises three natural groups based on geographical location: North American, Eurasian, and Asiatic. Botanists list some 25 to 30 species of American origin, about the same number for Asia, but only a single species for Eurasia, the vinifera, which has contributed the most to the advancement of grape culture throughout the world. Most of these species occupy the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere, and are typically most abundant in forested areas of relatively high rainfall. Unfortunately, the enumeration of species is far from complete. According to Zhang et al. (1990:50), “nearly half of the 80 or so species of Vitis in the world are native to China (and ten more new species yet to be published) some of which have been directly