The Great Mutate(tion)!

The great question of how globally we have resulted in over 1,100 grape varieties from just a few humble founder grapes can be answered with two options: cross-pollination and mutation. Mutation occurs when the DNA of the grape vine is altered slightly, either caused by a pathogen or spontaneously, resulting in a slight difference to the end product (grapes).

The most common form of Vitis vinifera mutation is colour, or ‘point’, mutation. This results in varieties that are genetically similar, but different enough to be considered distinct varieties. For example, Pinot Bianco (white) and Pinot Grigio (grey) are both colour mutations of Pinot Noir (black). It is worthwhile noting, also, that the Champagne varietal Pinot Meunier is also a mutation of Pinot Noir – filling in the family tree!

When looking at the bunches of these grape varieties, it is easy to see how closely they are related. ‘Pinot’ is the French word for ‘pine’, so named for the resemblance of the tightly bunched grapes to pine cones.  Each of these varietals has this pine cone shaped bunch, but come in different colours – a bit like a twin brother and sister, they look similar but are clearly not the same!

In our vineyard, spontaneous mutation has occurred in our Pinot Grigio patch 21. A very small portion of the block is showing bunches where half of the bunch has mutated to Pinot Bianco. In the photo above, you can see the top half of the bunch is still clearly dusty purpley-grey coloured (Grigio), where the bottom half has changed into green-skinned white grapes (Bianco). It is fascinating for us to see nature at work in our very own vineyard!

Colour mutation has played a key role in the building blocks of the modern-day wine industry. Who knows, we might see a Pinot Viola (purple) or a Pinot Rosa (pink) one day in the future!