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Grape Varieties Database

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A couple of years ago I qualified for membership in the Wine Century Club by completing my application listing 100 wine grape varieties I had tasted. At the time, this seemed like a lot and the idea of getting to 200 seemed unimaginable, so I just relaxed and hung my certificate on the wall. This May, the Club celebrated its fourth anniversary and suggested that everyone write in with the grape varieties tasted on that one day. In the end, the 590 members came up with 159 varieties just on that one day. I found that inspiring, so when I talked about it to a friend, who said that he was considering restarting his list for membership, I decided to try to expand the spreadsheet I had originally used for my membership to include more varieties, thinking that this would be helpful to others and might inspire me to try for the new Doppel Member status with 200 grapes. [BTW, it worked and I achieved Treble Member (300) and recently Quattro (400)]

Naively, I started with my list of 101 original grapes plus the list of 159 from the anniversary, combined those and then decided that I should try to add a few more ... little did I know what I was getting myself into! First stop was Wikipedia's "List of grape varieties". That gave my list a satisfying boost and I wrote to the Club founder to tell him what I was doing. He suggested Anthony J. Hawkins' "The Super Gigantic Y2K Winegrape Glossary" as being a particularly good source. I should have thought of this myself, having run across the list a few years ago, but it just didn't happen to come to mind this time until I was reminded. The Hawkins site made a rather dramatic enlargement to the list. When I started sorting out the duplicates and such, I had about 2600 lines in my spreadsheet and I was starting to wonder how I could usefully publish this, since a 2000+ checklist was going to be a bit unwieldy.

While Hawkins' list represents quite a resource, as I worked through the sorting, I started feeling less comfortable about the authority of the data I was working with. Certainly, most of Hawkins' list is taken from very solid sources, but there seemed to be a bit of anecdotal stuff mixed in that made me wonder a bit. Eventually, I followed through on one of the sources which Hawkins gives and found the Vitis International Variety Catalog, an on-line database created by the Julius Kühn-Institut - Federal Ressearch Centre for Cultivated Plants and the Institute for Grapevine Breeding - Geilweilerhof in Germany.

The Vitis database appealed to me as a scientist (more on this elsewhere) because it clearly showed cultivar names (the name by which the grape is known commonly) and the prime name (the name all the synonyms equate to) along with the species, berry color, and country of origin. E.g., the cultivar Shiraz corresponds to the prime name Syrah because it is really the same grape. This seemed like a delicious resource so I wondered just how many grape varieties they had. That turned out to be quite a surprise since they have 57,288 unique cultivar names which mapped into 22,631 prime names. Frankly, that was a bit overwhelming ... actually, it was a lot overwhelming.

For a while I considered just doing something that referenced this on-line resource, but in the end I decided there was still a use for an off-line resource, especially since it turned out that I had some names not in the Vitis database and there were some possible difficulties with using the Vitis database directly, which I will go into in more detail elsewhere.

In the end, I decided to take the list I already had going and try to "finish" it. I switched it around to the Vitis cultivar, prime, species, color, and country categories and began going through checking with Vitis, Hawkins, Wikipedia, and googling for other sources as needed. Where there were multiple cultivar names with identical beginning parts, e.g., Aglianico, Aglianico del Vulture, and Aglianico di Taurisi, I put all the names in the cultivar column on one line, unless there were too many and then I created multiple lines. More on all this too below. In the end I came up with a spreadsheet with 3,121 entries corresponding to 1,541 prime names relating to 9,235 identifiable grape names from 50 different countries from 11 different species (plus crosses). Whew!

And, of course, there is no real end to such a project, but I am going to publish what I have and wait to see what kind of feedback I get before I do more. Please let me know about errors and omissions and I will see what I can do. Please read the background information for standards.

Please see the pages below for additional information on various aspects of this project.