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AMPELOGRAPY is a specialization in the field of botany that studies the identification and classification of grapevines. It developed as a scientific study during the Renaissance period (1300-1600 AD), when more research began towards growing grapes for wine.

While vinegrowers and wine drinkers and merchants have tried to single out the best grapes since wine was discovered, the nature of vines to evolve and mutate have made that prey difficult to capture. Additionally, studies of grapevine types were undertaken all over the planet, wherever wine affected commerce, pre-dating the modern era of rapid communications and global travel, resulting in multiple names1, even within the same language, for genetically identical plants.

Pierre Galet, Chairman of the Department of Viticulture at the University of Montpellier, assembled the criteria used and literally wrote the book Practical Ampelography (now out of print) in the 1940s. Dictionnaire Encyclopédique des Cépages (Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Wine Grapes) is an updated version, edited by Pierre Roller. It contains descriptions of over 9,600 distinct types of grape vines with hundreds of illustrations. More than twice as many names for grapes have been recorded.

Ampelographers traditionally use the size, shape and structure of vine parts, primarily the leaves and shoots, but also flowers, berries, pips and clusters, for their discipline. A relatively modern advancement is the use of DNA profiling, which eliminates much of the guess work and speculation in identifying and tracing the lineage of grapevines. Developed as a forensic tool in 1985, DNA "fingerprinting" was first applied to grapevines by Australian researchers in 1993 and is now continuing as the best tool to identify grapevine heritage and relationships and to sort synonymous types at the University of California at Davis, the University of Monpellier in France and institutions in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Italy, and Portugal.

1. As one example of this problem, Galet list of grape vine synonyms contains several thousand for Malbec. RETURN

RELATED LINKS: Ampelography by Jeff Cox (PDF file, originally published in The Wine News); Jeff Cox publishingDr. Sherlock Smart Unravels a Grape Mystery

Page created August 18, 2013; updated December 6, 2015
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