Criolla (cree-O-la)

Criolla, Spanish for “creole,” is a group of several Vitis vinifera varieties that are historically important in the Americas, especially South America. Their story is convoluted. To begin with, the criollas may have originated naturally in South America as the progeny of European varieties brought earlier, or they may have been cultivated from seeds or cuttings brought by Spanish and Portuguese conquistadores. Here are a few of the important criollas: criolla grande is a pinkish skinned grape that probably originated in Argentina where it is still used to make neutral cheap wine. Another criolla called cereza (the word means “cherry” in Spanish) also originated in Argentina as the progeny of criolla chica and muscat of Alexandria. For its part, criolla chica (“Creole girl”) is the same as the Spanish grape listán prieto, an old variety from Castilla La Mancha. It was brought to Argentina and Chile in the mid-16th century. By the 19th century, criolla chica had, in Chile, been renamed pais (“country”). Around the same time (mid-16th century) that listan prieto was brought from Spain, Argentina, and Chile, it was also brought to Mexico by Franciscan missionaries, and there, it was renamed misión. Later, in California, misión’s spelling was changed to mission. Thus, in the end, Chile’s criolla chica (pais) and California’s mission are the same, and both are the Spanish grape listán prieto. Argentina’s criolla grande is related but it’s not known how. And Argentina’s cereza is a cross of criolla chica (aka pais; aka listán prieto) and muscat of Alexandria. (See also listán prieto).


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