The origin of the white grape variety is unclear; one of the hypotheses is based on Switzerland. Some 250 synonyms (60 of which include the part of the name Chasselas) attest to its great age and worldwide distribution. The most important ones, grouped alphabetically by country, are Queen Victoria White, Sweetwater White (Australia); Edelwein, Bassiraube, Frauentraube, Gutedel, Krachgutedel, Markgräfler, Schönedel, Silberling, Süßling, Viviser, Weißer Gutedel, Weißer Krachgutedel(Germany); Queen Victoria White(England); Bar-sur-Aube, Bon Blanc, Chasselas Blanchette, Chasselas Blanc Royal, Chasselas Croquant, Chasselas de Barde Montauban, Chasselas de Thomery, Chasselas Musqué, Lardat, Lardeau, Lardot, Lausannois, Mornant Blanc, Mornen Blanc, Pinzutella, Raisin d'Officier, Rougeasse, Royal Muscadine, Valais Blanc(France); Chasselas Bianco, Chasselas Dorato, Lacrima Christi Rose (Italy); Plemenka, Plemenka Bijela, Praskava(Croatia); Gutedel, Junker, Moster, Silberling, Silberweißling, Silberwisli, Silberwissling, (Austria); Sasla (Romania); Blanchette, Bois Rouge, Chasselas Blanc, Chasselas Croquant, Chasselas Doré, Chasselas Fendant, Chasselas Giclet, Chasselas Jaune Cire, Chasselas Plant Droit, Chasselat, Dorin, Fendant, Fendant Blanc, Perlan, Wälsche(Switzerland); Chrupka, Chrupka Biela, Chrupka Červená, Chrupka Fialová, Chrupka Petržlenová, Chrupka Muškátová, Chrupka Ružová, Chrupka Ušľachtilá(Slovakia); Bela Žlahtnina, Rdeča Žlahtnina (Slovenia); Chasselas Dorada, Elba Toro, Franceseta, Temprana Agostena, Temprana Tardía, Tempranillo de Nav, Temprano(Spain); Chrupka, Chrupka Bílá, Chrupka Červená, Chrupka Petrželová(Czech Republic); Shasla Belaya(Ukraine); Chasselas Piros, Fabianszölö, Fehér Chasselas, Fehér Fabianszölö, Saszla(Hungary); Amber Chasselas, Chasselas Doré, Golden Bordeaux(USA).
In spite of apparently indicative synonyms or morphological similarities, it must not be confused with the varieties Albillo Mayor, Barbarossa, Admirable de Courtiller (Chasselas de Courtiller), Chasselas de Pondichery, Fayoumi, Madeleine Royale, Marzemina Bianca, Palomino (Golden Chasselas), Priknadi or Žlahtina. According to DNA analyses carried out in 2009, a parent-offspring relationship exists with the Mornen Noir variety. It is the parent of the varieties Bronnertraube, Plant de Séchex, Plant de Vincelles and Sainte Marie, which are presumably natural crosses. The varieties Chasselas Cioutat (Slit Chasselas, Parsley Chasselas), Chasselas Rose Royal, Chasselas Rouge (Red Chasselas) and Chasselas Violet (Royal Chasselas) are colour and/or somatic, and Chasselas Musque (Muscatel Chasselas) is a mutation in taste.
Chasselas is one of the oldest cultivated grape varieties. The vine is considered the leading variety in the European gene pool. It was a cross-breeding partner of the new varieties Angelo Pirovano, Autuchon, Baco Chasselas, Black Prince, Blanc d'Ambre, Challenge, Charmont, Danlas, Doral, Ferdinand de Lesseps, Gutenborner, Gutknipperlé, Hecker, Hector, Ithaca, Johanniter, Jo Rizling, Kossuth Ferenc, Lindley, Mathiász Jánosne, Megrabuir, Menoir, Millennium Grape, Muscat Ottonel, Narancsizü, Nobling, Rabaner, Revolta, Rouge de Diolly, Schönburger and Triumph.
According to one hypothesis, an ancestor was cultivated as early as 6,000 BC in the Jordan Valley in present-day Israel and Jordan and was known in Egypt 5,000 years ago. It is even said to have been recognized on murals in royal tombs near Luxor, but of course such a thing has no probative value whatsoever. The ampelographer Adrien Berget also suspected an Egyptian origin. An old vine called "Chasselas" allegedly grew in the garden of the Coptic grammar school in Cairo. It came from the oasis of Al-Fayoum, where Greek colonists are said to have introduced viticulture during the reign of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC). Today there is a city in the centre of the Fayoum basin of the same name. According to another hypothesis, the variety is said to be identical with the Aminea mentioned by Pliny the Elder (23-79) or at least a descendant.
In 2009, the Swiss biologist Dr. José Vouillamoz and his colleague Dr. Claire Arnold from the University of Neuchâtel carried out extensive DNA analyses and came to a completely different conclusion. In his opinion, the variety does not originate from the Orient, but from the Swiss canton of Vaud on Lake Geneva. This is where a particularly large number of varieties of the vine are found. He refers to the Russian botanist Nikolai I. Vavilov (1887-1943), for whom this is a very important indication for the determination of an origin.
The German botanist Hieronymus Bock (1498-1554) mentions the names Kleinfränkische, Großfränkische, Edel and Lautterdrauben in his "Kreütter Buch" in the 1539 edition. There is a historical background to the Baden name "Gutedel". Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm I. of Baden (1677-1707) had been a friend of Prince Eugene (1663-1736), the Savoy Prince who served the Habsburg Empire, since the Turkish Wars. During his visits to Savoy, the wine-loving margrave is said to have particularly appreciated the prince's sparkling white wine, which was made from the Chasselas grape and is still called Fendant there. Prince Eugene sent him chasselas seedlings to Baden, which the margrave had planted in his margraviate. The white wine was perceived as "good" and "noble", which eventually gave it its name.
The Swiss name "Fendant" (splitting) derives from the fact that, due to the unusually hard skins, the berries do not burst but split when pressed between the index finger and thumb. The name was first used by the botanist Johannes Bauhin (1541-1613) in his work "Historia Plantarum Universalis", published posthumously in 1650. The French name "Chasselas" was first mentioned in 1654 by Nicolas de Bonnefons (servant of King Louis XIV) in his cookbook "Les délices de la campagne". The name is most likely derived from the village of Chasselas near Mâcon in Burgundy, from where the vine probably spread in France (but does not necessarily originate there).
The early-ripening, high-yielding vine is susceptible to various vine diseases. These are small berries (millerandage), chlorosis, esca and black spot disease (Phomopsis). It produces low acid and alcohol, yellow-green wines with almond aroma, which are usually enjoyed young. However, especially in Switzerland, very good qualities are also pressed under the protected designation of origin Fendant. In 2010, 4,013 hectares of vineyards were planted here, about one third of the total area under vines. The German Grand Duke Karl-Friedrich got to know the vine in Vevey (Switzerland) and brought it to Baden in 1780. It is still mainly present in this growing region today and occupies a total of 1,101 hectares in Germany. No stocks have been recorded in Austria.
Other areas under cultivation in Europe are in France (2,450 ha), Italy (34 ha), Croatia (21 ha), Portugal (76 ha), Russia (21 ha), Serbia (3,450 ha), Spain (20 ha) and Hungary (1,892 ha). Overseas, there are cultivation areas in Brazil (3 ha), Chile (88 ha), Canada (5 ha) and New Zealand (2 ha). In 2010, the variety occupied a total of 13,214 hectares of vineyards (including the 95 hectares shown in Kym Anderson's statistics under the name Chasselas Rouge extra). This puts it in 55th place in the worldwide grape variety ranking.
Source: Wine Grapes / J. Robinson, J. Harding, J. Vouillamoz / Penguin Books Ltd. 2012
Pictures: Ursula Brühl, Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn Institute (JKI)