Vinifera, or European, Wine Grapes

History       Suitable Climates       Uses       Cultivars       Clones       For More Information     

Eric Stafne, Mississippi State University


Vitis vinifera grapes are often referred to as Old World or European grapes and are believed to have originated in Asia Minor. There have been more than 5,000 named cultivars. They currently constitute the majority of the world’s grape acreage, although hybrid wine grapes that have V. vinifera parentage also exist in non-traditional growing regions. Only recently have V. vinifera grapes been grown successfully east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States.

Suitable Growing Climates

The range in which V. vinifera can be successfully cultivated is limited by climate. This species prefers and, in some cases, requires:

  • a long growing season
  • relatively high summer temperatures
  • low humidity
  • a rain-free harvest period
  • mild winter temperatures

Vinifera grapes are also susceptible to many diseases, insect pests, and other problems when grown outside of traditional climates. During the course of the last century, these issues have severely limited their potential in the eastern U.S. and therefore, long-term sustainability of V. vinifera in much of the continental U.S. is still in question.


Vinifera grapes are most often used for wine, but they can also be used for juice, raisins, canned goods, or fresh consumption.

Cultivar Examples

Barbera Nebbiolo
Cabernet Franc Palomino
Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot
Carignane Petite Sirah
Carnelian Pinot Blanc
Chardonnay Pinot Gris/Grigio
Chenin Blanc Pinot Noir
Colombard Riesling
Gamay Roussanne
Gewurztraminer Ruby Cabernet
Grenache Sangiovese
Malbec Sauvignon Blanc
Malvasia Bianca Semillon
Marsanne Syrah/Shiraz
Merlot Thompson’s Seedless
Mourvedre Zinfandel

Vinifera Clones

Vinifera clones are quite common. The term clone refers to one or more vines that originated from an individual vine, which was in some way unique from other vines of the same cultivar. This often occurs due to a mutation. All grape cultivars are propagated by asexual means to preserve the unique characteristics of the cultivar, but slight genetic variations commonly occur. To be considered a distinct clone, there must be a unique difference from other clones, although sometimes the difference is slight. Differences among clones of the same cultivar are generally much smaller than differences among cultivars, but often the difference can be important.

Clones may have differences in:

  • time of budbreak
  • time of ripening
  • cluster formation
  • cluster size
  • cluster compactness
  • berry size
  • fruit yield
  • fruit quality
  • other important characteristics

If the difference is desirable, the vine is propagated to perpetuate the new characteristics. Thus, a new clone is assigned a number or given a name to distinguish it from other clones. Although more attention is being given to selecting certain clones for certain planting locations, experience with different clones is extremely limited in much of the U.S.

Recommended Resources

Grape Varieties, University of California

Table Grape Varieties for Cool Climates, Cornell University

American Grapes

Interspecific Hybrid (French-American) Wine Grapes

The Super Gigantic Y2K Winegrape Glossary

Reviewed by Jim Wolpert, University of California
and Keith Striegler, University of Missouri