DNA testing shows 900-year-old France’s grape varieties

A photo taken on August 28, 2017 shows grapes at a vineyard in Canakkale. (AFP)
Updated 11 June 2019

DNA testing shows 900-year-old France’s grape varieties

  • Savignan is the mother variety for more than two dozen white grapes, including gruner veltliner, chenin, riesling and petit manseng

PARIS: Grape varieties brought to France by the Romans are identical to those grown for wine in some of the most famous appellations today, a new analysis of ancient vine DNA showed Monday.
Researchers unearthed evidence that one grape — from which well-known varieties such as chenin and riesling are derived — had been grown continuously for 900 years, long enough for a good many vintages.
Unlike many agricultural crops, which grow annually from seed, grapevines are normally propagated by replanting trimmings from an existing vine.
This saves both time and the risk of producing an inferior wine, and the new plants are genetically identical to their predecessors.
This means that a single generation of a grape variety can last for hundreds of years.
Written records suggest viniculture in France dates back to the sixth century BCE, introduced by the Greeks to their colony Massalia, the modern-day Marseille.
But until now scientists have been unable to accurately date many specific varieties, nor have they been able to chart how older vines are related to those used in winemaking today.
A Europe-wide team of archaeologists and geneticists analyzed the genomes of 28 grape pips unearthed at nine dig sites across France, the oldest dating to around 2,500 years ago.
They then cross-referenced them with a DNA database of modern varieties.
“We were able to show that we can identify varieties in the past, we can use these archaeological samples and get DNA from them and link them to modern varieties,” Nathan Wales, from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, told AFP.
Among the most corking discoveries was savignan, a white grape variety dated to 1100 CE.
Savignan is today used to produce the famed vin jaune of the Jura region, which gets its unique palate and color from being stored in oak barrels for up to six years.
“That shows us that this grape has been maintained for at least 900 years,” said Wales, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Plants.
“People have been taking that plant, cutting it, grafting it and maintaining that lineage. We have never had the opportunity to understand how long these processes have been going on.”

Savignan is the mother variety for more than two dozen white grapes, including gruner veltliner, chenin, riesling and petit manseng.
The team also found that humagne blanche, a white grape grown today in the Swiss Alps, was directly related to grapes grown in southern France by the Romans.
“There are stories where at some point Romans took vines into the Alps in Switzerland, and this shows that these stories were probably true,” said Wales.
“We have really close relationships between the archaeological samples and samples grown today.”
Other famous grapes, such as chardonnay and pinot noir, were proven to be virtually genetically identical to other Roman varieties.
“It kind of gives a new appreciation for this tradition, of winemaking, and the longevity of it,” Wales said.
“We knew that the Romans were doing cuttings but we didn’t know how long these particular grapes had been around but now we can see that these lineages have been maintained for thousands of years.”


You’ve got mail: Writer of mystery letters in Jeddah revealed

Updated 02 April 2020

You’ve got mail: Writer of mystery letters in Jeddah revealed

  • She leaves notes all over Jeddah to be picked up by strangers

JEDDAH: Ever wondered what it is like to find an uplifting letter from a stranger? If you are in Jeddah, then you are in luck as you might pass by and pick up a letter in a public area titled: “If you find me, I’m yours.”

These random acts of kindness were devised by an initiative called Garba’at Rasayl, Hejazi slang for “a mess of letters.” The group was created by 23-year-old Saudi freelance graphic designer Hadeel Felemban.

The simple white envelopes are covered in stickers and magazine cutouts. Felemban said letter-writing helps her express her thoughts and feelings while sharing it with the world, one letter at a time.

“Mess happens every time I write paper letters, a mess of words and feelings, a mess of scraps and colors used to decorate the envelope,” she told Arab News.

The act of writing letters is special to her as it brings a sense of connection to her father — who worked at the Saudi Post Office more than 20 years ago — and revives the exchange of letters in a world filled with technology. The initiative holds monthly meetings in different cities, where attendees gather to write letters to strangers.

“My father passed away when I was two, and the only way I knew him was through the stories my mother and his brothers share about him. I would write to him on my phone’s notepad sometimes, but I wanted something other than our names to connect us.”

The discovery of her late father’s stamp collection from different periods in her home two years ago prompted her to start the initiative.

“It was like finding a treasure. And ever since then, I’ve been looking for ways to reuse them and revive paper mail. I realized that in a period different than his, I became a mail carrier just like him.”

Felemban shared her interest in sending traditional mail on Instagram. She was able to send letters to some who responded, but she did not receive any in return.

“The waiting was suffocating, I felt devastated and I blame that we are not used to the mailing system and its hardship,” she said.

One night, she decided to write a letter and leave the envelopes in public places.

“Writing a letter to a stranger is probably the best solution to killing the unknown wait from the other party.”

She decorated the envelope of the message, and left it in a cafe in Jeddah without any contact information. “Then I found myself monitoring the cafe’s account on social media, and was disappointed yet again. I didn’t know what had happened to the letter, was it thrown away, picked up or neglected?”

In a family gathering in early October, Felemban placed her stationery supplies and envelopes on the dining table, ready to write a new letter. Her cousins and mother were curious and joined her.

“I was so happy to include them. I complained to them about the waiting and not knowing if the letter was abandoned.”

Her family members suggested creating a special tag for the letters so that strangers who received the letters could reach out to her.

“I created the Arabic hashtag for ‘mess of letters’ and created a post for my friends in Riyadh — where I was at the time — and asked them if they wanted to gather to write letters together. I received a lot of positive responses and then prepared for the event in one of the cafes in the city.”

She hosted the first gathering on Oct. 25 and was happy to see how the simple gesture of uplifting messages had an impact on her community.

“During exam week back when I was studying, it was such a mentally exhausting time, and I used to write encouraging words and quotes for myself and the visitors of the cafe I usually go to. I noticed they had a great impact on emotional well-being. I held on to that idea by writing letters to strangers in public places.”

This simple act of kindness from one stranger to another can go a long way toward making a difference in someone’s life.