The successful repatriation of the humble grape!

 A much loved, past menu during my time at Decent Drop was called ‘Home From Home’ and was all about celebrating the success stories of grapes that, like an aged northern retired couple, have upped sticks and moved home for a new lease of life. Although, most skipped the Alicante Red Lion and hit the Southern Hemisphere.

One thing to point out here is that a lot of grapes that we perceive as indigenous, were not naturally populated by the grape vines we see sprawling the lands today. Vitis Vinifera (the most common European grape vine) was actually introduced to our favourite ‘Old World’ countries from the Middle East around the 17th Century. In fact, Greece was actually trading ancient vines with Egypt from around 1600BC (that’s seriously old world). This then filtered into the rest of mainland Europe.

The original wild grape vines, with wild picked fruity bushes were confined to countries like Georgia, Iran and Armenia. Countries that today, most of us would pass over for a beautiful fruity Malbec.

And there we go! One of the worlds biggest repatriation success stories. Malbec! Mendoza, Argentina is surely is its home? Once known as Côt, Malbec’s actual original success story was Cahors, a small vineyard town on the outskirts of Bordeaux.

And there’s more. That French-named Cabernet Sauvignon making a living in Coonawarra, Australia. That beautifully aromatic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was making steely, mineral and elegant Sancerre for years before the Kiwis nicked it and converted the drinking habits of every lady who lunches for years. I should say they didn’t really steal them; the cuttings were usually brought across or gifted.

South Africa were growing grapes around the 17th Century, brought over with the shipping trade. They then brought Australia in on the party, which then let everyone else in as well. South America was actually introduced to Vitis Vinifera from the Spanish which then filtered to the Argentineans and Chileans, making some of our most popular wines today.

But what about North America? They actually had some native vines and it’s blooming lucky they did! Because if it wasn’t for the American roots, we might not have any grapes growing at all.

In the 19th Century, Phylloxera (a naughty little bug) devastated Europe’s vines (think Covid for grapes). It was brought across from America originally, on the boots of soldiers and shipping fleets. This randy little bug reproduced faster than Mick Jagger in the 80’s and ate up all the roots of the amazing Vitis Vinifera plants. To combat this, the heroes of yesteryear grafted the European vines onto the native American roots. We still have the bugs, they just don’t like these as much. So nowadays nearly all vines have American roots.

So as you can see, it’s not all been plain sailing for the ex-pat grapes, but we are getting there now. But why does it work? When you break it down, grapes are a simple beast. Give them sun, water and nutrients and they’ll grow. But to grow them successfully you need the right grapes in the right environments (Terroir to us wine nerds). Picking the right variety to suit your soil type can be seriously important. Chardonnay loves chalk and limestone for example, Sauvignon Blanc loves the Kimmeridigan soils of Sancerre. But chuck some Kimmeridigan in the middle of Australia’s heat and the grape will ripen too fast and the wine will be unbalanced and won’t be up to scratch.

Essentially without going mega geeky, repatriation of grapes is great, but it’s all about the correct grapes growing in the correct environment to create the success stories of Mendoza Malbec and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Terroir is key!

So there you have it... Don't be a Classico, heartland snob! If the grapes didn't leave their homes, then wine wouldn't have anywhere near the variation that helps us fall in love with nearly every new bottle!