When we look at the history of the modern Vitis Vinifera (the species of grape producing quality wines), one might assume there are great genetic differences between the different varietals we are familiar with. From Cabernet Sauvignon to Viognier, we have thousands of grape varietals that deliver completely different flavor profiles and aromas. I have always subconsciously believed these varietals were only distantly related.
Most wine geeks would consider it common knowledge that Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are all practically identical, aside from slight genetic mutation. But it looks like most wine grapes might be more closely related than I thought.
A recent study (conducted by Sean Myles, a geneticist at Cornell University) found that most Vitis Vinifera are in fact very similar.
“Thus merlot is intimately related to cabernet franc, which is a parent of cabernet sauvignon, whose other parent is sauvignon blanc, the daughter of traminer, which is also a progenitor of pinot noir, a parent of chardonnay.”
Due to the fact that most Grape vines are cloned, there is little room for natural genetic adaptation. The results of the study showed that 75% of all grape varieties are as closely related as parent to child, or brother to sister.
Why is this bad? Essentially most grape species have stopped evolving (or are evolving slower than is natural), which means they are not building new immunities to pests and other diseases.
You can check out the original article from the NY Times.