How a DNA Kit Changed my Relationship to Wine

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We spend a lot of time discussing wine grape pedigrees, but what about our own genealogy as it relates to wine?

I first started to think about this during a journey through Austria’s eastern border regions last year. I’ve always loved Austrian wines, especially precise, minerally Grüner Veltliner and juicy, spicy Blaufränkisch, and I wondered if my genetics made me predisposed to do so.

I’d recently joined the growing number of people—more than 26 million and counting—who have spit into a DNA kit and sent it off for analysis. The results arrived a week before my trip. My ethnicity was estimated to be more than 80% Eastern European, which came as no surprise. I’ve always been told that my ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from Austria, Poland and what was then Czechoslovakia. But my results also led me to details that hadn’t been passed down through the generations.

As we drove from winery to winery through the Weinviertel, Carnuntum, Neusiedlersee and Burgenland regions, I’d pass time on my Ancestry app digging for more clues. I was especially curious about my great-grandfather, who I knew very little about other than he was from Austria.

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Somewhere along the tour, I found proof: a ship passenger record that listed his birth location as Steiermark, Austria, otherwise known as Styria, a wine region known for its Sauvignon Blanc.

On the last day, we ate lunch at Schloss Kapfenstein, a castle that overlooks the rolling, forest-filled hills of Styria. I was reminded just how complex the world of wine can be, how deeply a glass can link us to other people and places.

There I was, in the general area my great-grandfather had left more than a century ago for a new life in America, one that would eventually lead to my return to his homeland. I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the romance of it all. I had searched for some hint of myself in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, something that tied me to this place, to my family and to my infatuation with wine.

Before this epiphany, I never imagined being able to retrace my roots through wine. Now I’m eager to return to Europe to travel through regions in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, to explore the other parts of my own wine pedigree.

Published on July 5, 2020
Topics: Wine and Ratings