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Generating Terroir Revival in the Negev

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

What can contemporary viticulturists in arid areas learn from their rich past?

Slated for publication in a special edition of the Journal of Arid Environments, the article

vineyards and wineries in the Negev desert of southern Israel

focuses on how contemporary vineyards and wineries in the Negev desert of southern Israel can benefit from a better understanding of the longstanding history of grape growing and wine-making traditions from this region. As the Negev climate has remained fairly constant in the last several thousand years, this stable habitat offers an apt location to compare the horticultural approaches employed by historical and modern grape farmers.

Based on a mixture of past and present data assembled through a combination of bioarcheology and ethnographic research methodologies, the article discusses certain gaps in attitude and practice that emerged between historical and contemporary Negev viticulturists. To overcome the impact caused by current climate pressures, the article posits that, like their forebearers, current-day viticulturists must forge a sustainable rapport with their local terroir. Applying knowledge derived from our POC project, the article explores ways for bridging these gaps through the revival of arid-adapted grapevine cultivars with rich varietal lineages that possessed substantial commercial value in antiquity. ​

Ancient DNA analysis of winegrape seeds reveals genetic link between two modern varieties of red and white grapes and grape varieties cultivated some 1,100 years ago (PNAS, 120:17, 2023)
grapevine pips

Recent excavations of Late Antiquity settlements in the Negev Highlands of southern Israel uncovered a society that established commercial-scale viticulture in an arid environment. We applied target-enriched genome-wide sequencing and radiocarbon dating to examine grapevine pips that were excavated at three of these sites. Our analyses revealed centuries long and continuous grape cultivation in the Southern Levant.

The genetically diverse pips also provided clues to ancient cultivation strategies aimed at improving agricultural productivity and ensuring food security. Applying genomic prediction analysis, a pip dated to the eighth century CE was determined to likely be from a white grape, to date the oldest to be identified. In a kinship analysis, another pip was found to be descendant from a modern Greek cultivar and was thus linked with several popular historic wines that were once traded across the Byzantine Empire. These findings shed light on historical Byzantine trading networks and on the genetic contribution of Levantine varieties to the classic Aegean landscape.



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