What's unique about Vitis vinifera grapes? And why were they chosen for winemaking?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What's unique about Vitis vinifera grapes? And why were they chosen for winemaking?

—Natalia E., from the Internet

Dear Natalia,

There are dozens of types of “Vitis,” or the genus of the plant kingdom that includes grapevines. Vitis vinifera is the most well-known, and includes thousands of varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and most of the types of grapes you associate with making wine. I think the fact that Vitis vinifera is native to the Mediterranean is the biggest reason for its success—it’s relatively easy to grow there, and Europe has a longer history of grapegrowing than the New World, and thus more experience with the grapes that folks can draw on. When European settlers came to other regions, they often brought their Vitis vinifera with them.

There are other Vitis’s out there that make terrific wine, like Vitis labrusca, native to the eastern United States, which includes varieties like Concord and Catawba; and Vitis aestivalis, which is also from North America and known for its Norton grape.

—Dr. Vinny

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