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‘Banned’ grape is mother of Chardonnay

The humble Gouais Blanc grape variety – once banned in Europe because of its poor quality – is the mother of leading varieties including Chardonnay and Gamay, according to a new study.

Scientists had already discovered that a number of modern-day grapes resulted from spontaneous crosses between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc.

But a new investigation has pinpointed the latter as the ‘maternal parent’ of nine out of 12 varieties.

The joint study by the Universities of Cambridge and Stanford used advanced DNA analysis to discover that Chardonnay, Gamay, Aligoté, Auxerrois, Bachet, Franc Noir, Melon, Romorantin and Sacy all owe their origins to Gouais Blanc, which was widely planted in France during the Middle Ages.

‘This is a striking conclusion, as Gouais is generally considered a highly inferior variety, and its cultivation was banned for many years in parts of Europe,’ the study reports.

‘It is particularly ironic that the despised grape Gouais Blanc was not just a parent for several of the world’s best-known and most important varieties, such as Chardonnay and Aligoté, it was the maternal parent, providing additional DNA and potentially determining important characteristics of the offspring.’

The Oxford Companion to Wine describes Gouais as a light-skinned variety, producing ‘very ordinary, acid wine’.

The study is reported in the latest issue of Biology Letters.

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Written by Richard Woodard

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