Vintners age the best wines, and it seems the grape vine itself took ages to domesticate.
Genetic analysis suggests grapes were probably first cultivated in southwest Asia during the Neolithic, approximately 8,000 years ago. However, archeological evidence suggests thousands of years passed during which many cultivated grape vines in Europe still produced smaller grapes and lower yields than the thoroughly domesticated grape subspecies, Vitis vinifera vinifera.
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The remnants of grapes grown in southern France under the Roman Empire provide evidence that domestication of the plant proceeded slowly in the region between 50 BC and 500 AD. At 17 sites in two wine producing regions of ancient France, winery waste showed a mixture of wild-type and domesticated grapes. Over centuries, a greater proportion of the grape showed signs of being artificially selected for greater size and productivity. The study was published in PLOS ONE.
The archeologists used preserved grape seeds to determine the vines degree of domestication. Domesticated grapes tend to have more elongated seeds than their wild cousins, Vitis vinifera sylvestris, as well as other shape and flavor differences. Grape growers weren't breeding their grapes for seed shape, though. The shape came as a result of selectively growing vines with larger, more oval fruits, which also had elongated seeds, according to the study. However, the authors noted other unknown pressures also may have driven changes in grapes as they were domesticated.