A new study led by a team of scientists has revealed the existence of 210 unknown grape varieties in Spain setting a new milestone in the country’s varietal diversity. The research, which has also named and properly identified an additional 91 varieties, was coordinated by the Agricultural Food Department at the Institute of Agriculture and Food Investigation in Madrid (IMIDRA), led by Félix Cabello.
“This is a milestone for vine growing in Spain,” said Cabello, who is also in charge of El Encín, Spain's largest collection of grape varieties. "Diversity has doubled”, he added, in front of an audience of experts involved in the Project to Document, Characterize and Rationalise Vine Collections coming from 25 research centres throughout Spain. “It’s the first time since agricultural matters were devolved to local authorities across the country that such an effort is made”.
According to Cabello, such achievement could only be compared to Villava’s 843-grape-variety collection, which García de los Salmones assembled between 1896 and 1914 and was the basis of the current El Encín Vines Collection.
Information was shared during the joint meeting that brought together all grape experts working on the project. The presentation was led by Enrique Ruiz Escudero, Deputy Minister for Environmental and Territorial Planning in Madrid and Manuel Laínez, director of the National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology (INIA), where the event was held.
Taking into account the new data, the number of table and wine grapes in Spain has more than doubled from 235 to 536. Cabello said that previous wine grape figures in Spain included 116 native or traditional varieties, 19 authorised foreign varieties and an additional 74 grapes identified as a minority crop or in danger of extinction. This latter group has seen an unprecedented growth and now includes 375 grape varieties.
The new findings will certainly raise Spain’s profile in Europe’s varietal diversity, currently led by Italy (400 varieties) and Portugal (308). With 155 planted varieties, Spain ranks sixth, below Croatia, Greece and France. A more worrying issue is diversity—nine grape varieties account for 80% of the total area under vine.
Funded by INIA, the project’s budget stood at over €132,000. 1,763 samples have been studied: DNA profiles have been compared in 653 cases and the remaining 1,110 have been analyzed by the laboratory of Molecular Biology at IMIDRA’s. The ultimate goal is to use the information coming from various Spanish research centres to complete the Inventory of Plant Genetic Resources.
New varieties have been found mainly in regions bordering France (the Pre-Pyrennes areas in the provinces of Huesca, Lérida and Gerona) and Portugal (Arribes, Sierra de Francia, Cáceres), as well as Asturias and Cantabria (Liébana) in northern Spain, Bajo Aragón, San Martín de Valdeiglesias (Madrid), Granada, Murcia, Valencia, Manchuela and Sacedón (Guadalajara), together with the Canary and Balearic Islands.
Comparative work carried out alongside El Encín Vines Collection and the European Database of Grape Varieties has found similarities among varieties found in nearby regions, so it can be concluded that they are either abandoned or minority crops. Experts are also gathering valuable information about the evolution of wine grapes in Spain and will be able to increasingly identify family ties (phytogenetic relations) among them.
To serve as example, Cabello mentioned Castellana Blanca, which can be found in almost every Spanish region. First documented in 1513, the current Verdejo and Godello are their descendants. So called Plant de Vic, which comes from Torres’ private collection, has also been found in Murcia, Aragón, Alicante and Castilla y León. A really exotic finding is Muscat d’Istamboul: although plantings have disappeared, it has been identified after contrasting information with the Montpellier Vines Collection. Now is the time to name and thoroughly describe these new findings —who knows how many of them could be grown in some of Spain’s wine regions in the future.
In addition, the research work has also helped to identify different bio-types of extensively grown varieties like Tempranillo and Garnacha.