Who’s Your Daddy?: Cabernet Sauvignon

Welcome to the first edition of the “Who’s Your Daddy” mini-posts!  These little posts are designed to provide a little entertainment in between my larger literature reviews, and to reveal the origins of a particular grape varietal.

So, who’s your daddy, Cabernet Sauvignon?

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most world-renowned red grape varietals, one which even the most novice of wine drinkers would recognize.  Cabernet Sauvignon, which also goes under the names, Petit Cabernet, Petit Vidure and Vidure, and Uva Francese (in Italy); has been shown to be a much younger varietal than first thought.  It is likely under 600 years old, with the first major planting of it occurring in the 1800s when it was used to replant much of Europe after their vines were heavily damaged by the pest phylloxera.

Cabernet Sauvignon is thick-skinned, has hardy vines, and is relatively resistant to rot and other diseases.  Since it ripens relatively late, it can be relatively hard to grow in certain climates that are threatened with inclement weather in the fall (like here in Virginia, though it does grow successfully in some vineyards).  Places like California, where the sun is shining frequently and well into the fall, Cabernet Sauvignon can easily and consistently grow to its full ripening potential.  As a wine, Cabernet Sauvignon is full bodied and rich, and often exhibits earthy characteristics, with hints of black currant and black cherries in its youth.  It can also exhibit flavors of molasses, vanilla, and tobacco, which are usually associated with being fermented and aged in oak barrels.

Enough about WHAT Cabernet Sauvignon is; who’s the daddy?

While looking for the origins of Zinfandel, a group at the University of California at Davis, led by Carole Meredith and John Bowers in 1997, stumbled upon the origins of the equally popular Cabernet Sauvignon.  Using microsatellite data collected from the ground up leaves of many grape varietals, the UC Davis group found with extremely high likelihood, that the “parents” of Cabernet Sauvignon were in fact the grape varietals:

Cabernet Franc……




                  Sauvignon Blanc!



As far as how these two love birds got together, Dr. Meredith speculated that it was simply the product of spontaneous crossing of the two grape varietals from adjacent vineyards.  Since grapevines are wind pollinated, it’s possible that if the two varietals were relatively close together, a strong breeze or perhaps an insect visitor simply transferred the pollen of the Cabernet Franc onto the open flower of the Sauvignon Blanc. A little hanky panky in the corner of the vineyard….

If you’d like to read the article showing this result, here is the full citation.  Be warned, it’s full of genetic terminology and methodology, so though it’s a short article, it’s really heavy for those who aren’t familiar with the language.

Bowers, J.E., and C.P. Meredith. 1997. The parentage of a classic wine grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. Nature Genetics 16: 84-87.

If you found this interesting and would like to know the origins of another varietal, comment below or send me an email at becca@academicwino.com/
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!