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7 August 2004
Sardinia stakes claim as cradle of wine

Dutch and Italian archaeologists digging in the fertile Sardara hills north of Sardinia's capital Cagliari said that they had discovered grape pips and sediment dating to 1,200 BCE. Sardinia, it seems, may be the cradle of European wine culture. DNA tests on the grape remains are being carried out by researchers at Milan's Bicocca and State universities to try to determine if the vines were imported from other ancient winegrowing regions or were a local variety.
     "We will have to rewrite the history of the origins of wine," said Massimo Labra, a researcher on the project. It had been thought that the region's earliest wines were imported from Mesopotamia, but the latest research appears about to shatter that theory. "The hypothesis we are trying to prove is not only that the most ancient wine in the Mediterranean was produced in Sardinia but also that vines were cultivated on the island at the time that civilisation exploded into life in Mesopotamia and then in Egypt," Mr Labra said. "Preliminary analysis carried out on Sardinian vines to trace their genes will be compared with the data that one can extrapolate from analysis of ancient grape seed to see if there are affinities with wild Sardinian vines born on the island."
     The excavations are being conducted by archaeologists and botanists from Italy and the Netherlands working with agricultural experts from Cagliari. An earlier study has already shown that the cannonau variety of Sardinian grape thought to have been imported from Spain was native to the island. "Analysis shows a very high probability that cannonau could be the Mediterranean's oldest wine," Fabrizio Grassi, of Milan's state university, said.
     The digs disclosed hundreds of examples of the 3,200-year-old grape seed planted near ancient vases and urns that the archaeologists unearthed at Sardara, on sites at Villanovafranca on the rugged island's Campidano plain, and at Borore, in central Sardinia. The ancient grape pips are poorly conserved, so the researchers have adopted a special technique to unravel their genetic history. "We have developed a biomolecular platform, that is a series of machines linked to each other, to extract the DNA of the vines," Mr Labra explained.

Sources: The Independent (4 August 2004), Wine International (5 August 2004)

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