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What Exactly Is Phylloxera?

What was the reason for the grape phylloxera devastation and why is there no solution?
Phylloxera is tiny aphids or louse which lives on and feeds on the seeds of grapes. It is able to infest a vineyard through the soles of a workers’ boots, or by moving from one vineyard to another due to close proximity.

A brief history of the inexplicably bleak plight

A plague erupted across Europe that almost completely destroyed all wineries around the globe. In the last quarter of the 1800’s wineries across Europe were ravaged and burned family’s old vineyards in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease.

In the early 1900s, Phylloxera took a staggering cost: more than 70 percent of vineyards in France had died and the lives for thousands of households were destroyed. In a flash the world was plunged into a global wine shortage.

In one instance three tiny parcels of Pinot Noir that were owned by Bollinger in Champagne mysteriously stood up to the pressure. The result was 3000 bottles of wine dubbed “Vieille Vignes Francaises” (French Old Vines) were the most sought-after champagne bottles.

The Bounty for the Cure

Astonished by the fury by the wrath of the minister of Agriculture and Commerce in France provided 20,000 Francs, or $1 million today – to anyone who can find a cure.

Where did Phylloxera originate from?

We’re sorry to say that it was out of America! United States! This is where things begin to become interesting:

A sad tale of the sad tail of Agoston Haraszthy

Phylloxera could have spread through the inadvertent activities that were taken by “Count” Agoston Haraszthy, the man who established Sonoma’s most famous winery, Buena Vista Winery in 1857.

The year 1861 was the time that Haraszthy was on a trip to Europe wandering around the vineyards of France, Germany and Switzerland to gather samples. Haraszthy brought back cuttings from 350 different varieties of grapes. He then established an experiment in Sonoma.

Unfortunately, the vines went brown and died, marking the first time there was an infestation caused by Phylloxera throughout the U.S.. After much loss, Agoston Haraszthy filed for bankruptcy, and then moved out of his home in the U.S., never to ever return.

The scientists of the present took great pains to learn about the tiny louse.

The Genus Phylloxera is distinguished by having three antennae, the third, or terminal, being the longest, as well as having its wings spread flat on its back instead of the roof-style. It is a part of all-winged insects (Homoptera) and is divided between two major families in that sub-order: plantslice (Aphididae) on one hand, and the bark-lice {occidae) in the opposite. In the tarsus that is one-jointed of the louse larva, or newly-hatched and being oviparous, it exhibits affinity with the second family however, in the tarsus with two joints of older individuals and in every other character it is mostly an aphididan.
CHAS. V. RILEY, M. A., Ph. D. “The Grape Phylloxera” Popular Science, May 1874.

The Reward was Never Given!

More than 450 articles were published on the subject of Phylloxera during the period of 1868 to 1871. Research was conducted using testing plants as well as poison, flooding varieties, different types of soil, grape breeding methods and many more.

A group of researchers , including one Frenchman, Jules Emile Planchon along with one American, Charles Valentine Riley found the solution! The process of grafting the vitis vinifera (the European grapevine) onto American root stock stopped root-eating louse.

The original researchers had not wanted the money that had grown to nearly $5 million in today’s dollars A viticulturist from Bordeaux named Leo Laliman did. Laliman had taken the experiment methods and transformed them into an industry practice in Bordeaux. The government rejected him for the reason that he’d only employed preventive measures but did not develop an effective cure.

European wines Grapes are infused with American Roots

Today, rootstock is utilized in the world of wine and phylloxera remains an issue.

The threat is not less when it comes to the U.S. In the 1990’s , a variant of Phylloxera named “Biotype B,” was discovered to be thriving in AXr1 which was a rootstock that was common. Two thirds of vineyards in Napa in the 1990’s were planted. Phylloxera has also destroyed the ungrafted vineyards of Oregon and its owners thought that the louse would not overrun the fertile soils.

Phylloxera Resistant Vineyards

There are a few instances that vineyards were unaffected due to grape phylloxera. While some of these places remain a mystery but a large portion of the vineyards that are phylloxera-resistant are located in areas that experience strong winds.

The state of Australia, Queensland was infected by the disease in the 1870s. The Australian government responded to safeguard their vineyards by enacting the Vine Protection Act of 1874 that ended the usual method of transporting vines machines and equipment across the state. Presently, Tasmania and Western Australia are not yet infested.