Wine Grapes

member link Leading wine writer, author and broadcaster, Jancis Robinson MW, tends not to do things by halves. Her latest book, a comprehensive guide to almost 1,400 grape varieties, is ambitious by anyone's standards. Together with co-writers Julia Harding MW and botanist José Vouillamoz, it has taken Jancis four years to compile. Here she gives us some insights into that process and a taste of what to expect

I've been lucky, industrious and crazy enough to be responsible for more than 20 books about wine so far, but none is quite as beautiful as Wine Grapes, published on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of October – barring terrible accidents on the China Sea when shipping them from the printers.

Wine Grapes is a 1,200-page, 7lb monster that has blighted the lives particularly of my co-authors Julia Harding MW and Dr José Vouillamoz for the last four years, ever since we decided to write the definitive guide to every single grape variety responsible for making wine commercially.

member link

The publishers Penguin, or rather their leading non fiction imprint Allen Lane, asked me for a steer on the design. I accordingly lent them various books whose design I admired - notably Inside Burgundy by Jasper Morris MW prepared for publishers Berry Bros by Carrie Segrave and her husband Chris Foulkes who, incidentally, published my first book on grape varieties Vines, Grapes & Wines back in 1986. But I also showed them various old ampelographies in my possession. Ampelography is the science of identification of vine varieties by studying what they, and particularly their leaves, look like. It was a particularly popular sport a century ago and so these dusty old ampelographies have a decidedly late Victorian look.

The result is that our book looks not unlike these beautiful old tomes with its collection of classic typefaces and curlicues – not least because, thanks to an enormous amount of effort and the kindness of two lucky owners of the first edition, Swiss winemaker Josef-Marie Chanton and British Master of Wine Neil Tully, we have been able faithfully to reproduce 80 stunning botanical paintings from the classic ampelography of all time, that produced by Pierre Viala and Victor Vermorel in the first decade of the last century.

The funny thing is that this extremely classic look illustrates the very latest facts about the plants responsible for our favourite drink – many of them published for the first time. While Julia is the only person in the world with a top MW qualification and a professional background as a copy editor of the most persistent and pernickety sort, José is a botanist and grape geneticist. He is able to analyse the DNA of plants and see precisely how they are related. The science of analysing microsatellites (types of DNA markers) now substantively complements the eye with its study of leaves and shoot tips and hence we are able to spell out exactly what links, for instance, syrah and pinot, savagnin blanc and grüner veltliner, and merlot and malbec.

Our beautiful book is therefore home to 14 uniquely complex family trees painstakingly assembled by José and, as usual, minutely checked by Julia. Like those for Brianna and Prior, the pinot one is so big that it needs a pullout section running over two whole pages. Pinot's pedigree includes all manner of unexpected relatives among the 156 charted.

The result of our intense, demanding and at times apparently almost impossible task has been that I have learnt an enormous amount that was not known in the 1980s when I last tackled this subject in depth. Although this new book has been described by several commentators as an update of Vines, Grapes & Wines, it is in fact a completely original work, based on José's original research into the world of vines and DNA, Julia's original research into who has what planted (a daunting task when applied to the whole of the wine world – the latest Italian statistics date from 2000), and my vantage point as someone who has been fascinated by the revealing world of grapevine varieties for nearly 30 years.

We hope you will find the results intriguing and rewarding.

(More details at

Members' Comments (0)

There are no comments for this article.

Want more inspiration?

Sign up for a carefully-curated selection of recipes, guides, in-depth expertise and much more.

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.


4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies: Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.