DNA sleuth hunts roots of wine in Anatolian region

DNA sleuth hunts roots of wine in Anatolian region

ELAZIĞ - Agence France-Presse
DNA sleuth hunts roots of wine in Anatolian region

Diyarbarkır, an ancient winemaking region, is home to a valley of vineyards. AFP photo

There are easier places to make wine than the spectacular, desolate landscapes of southeast Turkey, but DNA analysis suggests it is here that Stone Age farmers first domesticated the wine grape.

Today Turkey is home to archaeological sites as well as vineyards of ancient grape varieties like Boğazkere and Öküzgözü, which drew the curiosity of the Swiss botanist and grape DNA sleuth Jose Vouillamoz, for the clues they may offer to the origin of European wine.

Together with the biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern, Vouillamoz has spent nearly a decade studying the world’s cultivated and wild vines.

“We wanted to collect samples from wild and cultivated grape vines from the Near East to see in which place the wild grape was, genetically speaking, linked the closest to the cultivated variety.” “It turned out to be southeastern Anatolia,” said Vouillamoz, speaking at a wine conference in the Turish province of İzmir this month. “We propose the hypothesis that it is most likely the first place of grape vine domestication.”

Anatolian roots
While Georgia, Armenia and Iran all played a role in ancient winemaking, preliminary evidence from pottery and even older clay mineral containers, seems to place the very first domestication of the wild Eurasian grape Vitis vinifera in southeastern Anatolia sometime between 5,000 and 8,500 BC, McGovern said.

Evidence found by the research duo suggests that for wine, hundreds of today’s grapes find their roots in “founder” varieties descended from the wild grapes of the region.

Through DNA profiling, Vouillamoz says he has isolated 13 of these “founder” grapes by tracing the family trees of European fine wine grapes.

He believes farmers across southeast Anatolia or the Near East started domesticating the wild Vitis vinifera grape around the same time, giving rise to the 13 “founders.”