Grape Hybrids

Definition - What does Grape Hybrids mean?

Grape hybrids are the offspring of two grape varietals from different vitis species. The genus vitis is part of the botanical classification that includes the vine. Grape hybrids can be produced by man or can occur naturally through cross-pollination.

Each individual vitis species contains its own unique genetic tolerances to specific climatic conditions and/or disease resistance. The deliberate vine breeding of different species is performed to create a grape variety that is best suited to a climate and set of conditions not native to one of the species. The more widely bred hybrids are the offspring of a grape variety from the most common wine producing vine species - the European vitis vinifera - and an American vine species variety.

WineFrog explains Grape Hybrids

The grape varieties we are most familiar with - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir - are from the European vine species, vitis vinifera. Several other vine species do exist, native to North America and Asia.

A grape hybrid is a genetic crossing but should not be confused with a cross. Crosses are the offspring of two different varieties from the same species. An example would be Cabernet Sauvignon; a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, both vitis vinifera varietals.

Vitis vinifera and American vine species hybrid programs were introduced in Europe as a way to combat fungal diseases and phylloxera, while in North America hybrids were deliberately produced to be heartier and more cold-weather resistant versions of their vinifera parent.

Major Vine Species

Vitis vinifera
This is the most prevalent wine producing vine species, naturally bred in Europe and native to the region formally known as Mesopotamia. Vitis vinifera grape varieties include; Cabernet France, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.

Vitis labrusca

Native to North America’s east coast, the vine produces grapes most commonly used for jam and juice. When used in wine production, undesirable 'foxy’ flavours can occur.

Vitis riparia

This vine species is known for its resistance to disease, specifically phylloxera. It is native to central and eastern North America.

Vitis aestivalis

Also native to the eastern United States, it was one of the original vines used for wine production in North America and is still used, to a lesser degree, today.

Vitis rotundifolia
This species is native to the southeastern Unites States and the grapes it produces are used for the production of jam, juice and raisins.

Some Examples of Grape Hybrids

Baco Noir
The variety is the offspring of Folle Blanche of the vitis vinifera species and a vitis riparia varietal. Crossed in 1894 by French grape breeder François Baco, it was once cultivated in France but now is mostly found in North America, specifically New York State and parts of Canada.

Vidal Blanc
Grown widely in Canada and used in the production of icewine, this hybrid is particularly valued for its ability to withstand winter conditions. The cross of Ugni Blanc of the vitis vinifera species and another hybrid variety (parent to Seyval Blanc) was developed by grape breeder Jean Louis Vidal.

Bred to be disease resistant, this hybrid variety was developed in the late 1980’s by the German viticultural research facility, Geilweilerhof. It is a cross of Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau (both vitis vinifera) and Chambourcin, a hybrid.

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