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Some Insight Into Grape Relationships

I recently had a bottle of Croatian wine made from the Babic grape. In the end, it turned out this grape was already in my life list, but, as I often do when I think I might have a new grape I looked it up in the Vitis database. This search always starts with a search by cultivar name and there I found both Babic and Plavic Mali Crni as prime names for Croatia and Yugoslavia respectively. This seemed a bit curious. It is certainly not uncommon for the same prime name to be known by two different cultivar names in two different countries, e.g., Grenache and Garnacha, but here we had the reverse situation. Plus, Yugoslavia is a country which no longer exists and Croatia is a part of the former Yugoslavia. So, I made some inquiries of my contact at VIVC.

She explained that the database was assembled from over 150 different lists of grape synonyms, starting in 1983. Unsurprisingly, the lists varied in spellings, background, etc. While work has been on-going to clean the database and resolve issues of spelling and relationships, the work is not heavily funded and has limited staff, so there is only so much that has been done. And, of course, the database is huge, so noticing issues is itself a problem. Indeed, as a result of my query the Yugoslavian entry was corrected and no longer points to Babic.

But, this had perked my curiosity since my understanding from other sources is that Plavac Mali is a cross between Crlenjak Kaštelanski and Dobričić and Crlenjak Kaštelanski has been written about as the ultimate ancestor of Primativo and hence of Zinfandel. A cultivar name search on VIVC for Crlenjak Kaštelanski gives Primativo as the prime name. Primativo also appears in VIVC as the Prime Name for Zinfandel. This sent me back to my contact at VIVC.

What emerged was a better understanding of grape relationships. In some cases, we known (with varying degrees of certainty) that one grape is a cross between two other grapes, e.g., the example of Plavic Mali above. In such a case, one can genuinely speak of one grape being the ancestor of another. But, in the case of Zinfandel, Primativo, and Crlenjak Kaštelanski, what we know from genetic testing that they share the same genetic profile, i.e., appear to be sufficiently alike that one would ordinarily consider them the “same” grape (with all of the qualifications of “same” covered by the discussion About Species and "Unique" Varieties above). So, Primativo might be considered “ancestral” to Zinfandel in the sense that it seems likely that it was Primativo cuttings which were transported to the United States to form the basis of what we call Zinfandel, but really they are the same grape, not ancestral or child.

Moreover, it turns out there is another Montenegrin grape called Kratkosija which is also the same grape. And, in the usual fashion of such things, people from a particular country tend to think that their name for the grape is the “prime” name and all the others are merely cultivar names. Therefore, really any of these names could be considered the prime name since the function of the prime name is to identify what is the “same”.

Just to make things colorful, I found another source (http://votresommelier.ca/fr/blog/zinfandel) which lists all of the following as synonyms of Zinfandel: Cjutiitza, Crljenak Kastelanski, Crnii Krstacha, Gioia del Colle, Grakosija, Gratosija, Krakosija, Kratkochiva noir, Kratkosica, Kraktosija, Kratkosija Crna, Kratosija, Kratosijo, Ljutiitza, Morellone, Plavac veliki, Pribridrag, Primaticcio, Primitivo, Primitivo di Gioia, Primitivo nero, Primitivo tribidrag, Uva della pergola, Uva di Corato. Most of these I can confirm in VIVC.

So, what VIVC has done is to use Primativo as the prime name, in part because it does not have a strong country of origin association as do many of the others.