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The European Grape

The European grape, Vitis vinifera (Fig. 1), is the grape of ancient
and modern agriculture. It is the vine which Noah planted after the
Deluge; the vine of Israel and of the Promised Land; the vine of the
parables in the New Testament. It is the grape and the vine of the
myths, fables, poetry and prose of all peoples. It is the grape from
which the wines of the world are made. From it come the raisins of the
world. It is the chief agricultural crop of southern Europe and
northern Africa and of vast regions in other parts of the world,
having followed civilized man from place to place in all temperate
climates. The European grape has so impressed itself on the human mind
that when one thinks or speaks of the grape, or of the vine, it is
this Old World species, the vine of antiquity, that presents itself.

The written records of the cultivation of the European grape go back
five or six thousand years. The ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks
and Romans grew the vine and made wine from its fruit. Grape seeds
have been found in the remains of European peoples of prehistoric
times, showing that primitive men enlivened their scanty fare with
wild grapes. Cultivation of the grape in the Old World probably began
in the region about the Caspian Sea where the vine has always run
wild. We have proof of the great antiquity of the grape in Egypt, for
its seeds are found entombed with the oldest mummies. Probably the
Phoenicians, the earliest navigators on the Mediterranean, carried the
grape from Egypt and Syria to Greece, Rome and other countries
bordering on this sea. The domestication of the grape was far advanced
in Christ's time, for Pliny, writing then, describes ninety-one kinds
of grapes and fifty kinds of wine.

It can never be known exactly when the European grape came under
cultivation. There is no word as to what were the methods and
processes of domestication, and whose the minds and hands that
remodeled the wild grape of Europe into the grape of the vineyards.
The Old World grape was domesticated long before the faint traditions
which have been transmitted to our day could possibly have arisen. For
knowledge of how wild species of this fruit have been and may be
brought under cultivation, we must turn to New World records.

Next: American Grapes

Previous: The Domestication Of The Grape

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