The budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a leading system in genetics, genomics and molecular biology and is becoming a powerful tool to illuminate ecological and evolutionary principles. However, little is known of the ecology and population structure of this species in nature. Here, we present a field survey of this yeast at an unprecedented scale and have performed population genetics analysis of Chinese wild isolates with different ecological and geographical origins. We also included a set of worldwide isolates that represent the maximum genetic variation of S. cerevisiae documented so far. We clearly show that S. cerevisiae is a ubiquitous species in nature, occurring in highly diversified substrates from human-associated environments as well as habitats remote from human activity. Chinese isolates of S. cerevisiae exhibited strong population structure with nearly double the combined genetic variation of isolates from the rest of the world. We identified eight new distinct wild lineages (CHN I–VIII) from a set of 99 characterized Chinese isolates. Isolates from primeval forests occur in ancient and significantly diverged basal lineages, while those from human-associated environments generally cluster in less differentiated domestic or mosaic groups. Basal lineages from primeval forests are usually inbred, exhibit lineage-specific karyotypes and are partially reproductively isolated. Our results suggest that greatly diverged populations of wild S. cerevisiae exist independently of and predate domesticated isolates. We find that China harbours a reservoir of natural genetic variation of S. cerevisiae and perhaps gives an indication of the origin of the species.