Native Grape Varieties and Traditional Grape Varieties

Grape varieties can be divided into three categories: native (or autochthonous or indigenous), international (or allochthonous or foreign), and traditional. Native grape varieties are those that were born in a specific locality, or have grown there for thousands of years, rarely travel out of that place, and are not commonly found anywhere else. For example, Fiano is a native Italian grape that originated in the area of Lapio, a small town located east of Avellino in the Cam- pania region; to this day, it still remains closely associated with the area. Even varieties that originate elsewhere, but then become associated with a place for a very long time (thousands of years, for example) can be called native.

At the other end of the scale are international grape varieties, which are found almost everywhere in the world, having been planted recently in new lands

a hundred years or so, in an effort to duplicate the success of French wines. Well known varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are native to France and are used to produce some of the world’s most famous wines. Thus, they have become the ultimate international varieties (and Italy grows them too).

In between these two categories, we can find traditional varieties—inter- national grape varieties that have been grown long enough in a particular place to become an intrinsic part of that agricultural tradition. Most experts feel that any variety grown regularly for at least 300 years or more is traditional to that area. It follows that varieties such as Cabernet Franc and Merlot, which have been grown in Italy’s Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions since at least the eighteenth century, are traditional to those areas. Indeed, there is nothing more traditional to someone from Udine or Vicenza than a glass of Merlot or Pinot Bianco. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are much later arrivals to Friuli, so they are techni- cally international varieties in that region, not traditional.

Over time, native grapes can become international varieties; going back to our Fiano example, it is now grown all over Campania and in other parts of Italy too (Sicily, Basilicata, Puglia). Furthermore, the fine wines that are possible with Fiano have led many producers in California and Australia to try their hand at locally grown and produced Fiano wine too. So the Fiano variety may one day become so planted and so popular that it will be viewed as an international va- riety, much like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that are grown just about everywhere nowadays.

In addition to these categories, grape varieties in Italy are officially listed in a database called Registro Nazionale delle Varietà di Vite, (National Registry of Grape Varieties). Controlled by Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture and updated annual- ly, the registry contains a catalog of more than 500 wine grape varieties that have gone through a lengthy administrative process to be certified as being suitable for cultivation in certain parts of Italy.