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Dying on the Vine: How Phylloxera Transformed Wine

George Gale
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Dying on the Vine
    Book Description:

    Dying on the Vinechronicles 150 years of scientific warfare against the grapevine's worst enemy: phylloxera. In a book that is highly relevant for the wine industry today, George Gale describes the biological and economic disaster that unfolded when a tiny, root-sucking insect invaded the south of France in the 1860s, spread throughout Europe, and journeyed across oceans to Africa, South America, Australia, and California-laying waste to vineyards wherever it landed. He tells how scientists, viticulturalists, researchers, and others came together to save the world's vineyards and, with years of observation and research, developed a strategy of resistance. Among other topics, the book discusses phylloxera as an important case study of how one invasive species can colonize new habitats and examines California's past and present problems with it.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94885-3
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In the mid-1860s, a near-microscopic yellow insect, the grape phylloxera,¹ invaded the South of France and began killing the native vines, the Cabernets, Chardonnays, Syrahs, and all their kin. Within fifty years the invasion had spread throughout Europe and had jumped the oceans to Africa, South America, Australia, and California, laying waste to vineyards wherever it landed. It was a biological disaster of worldwide proportions, a disaster that ruined national economies, destroyed agricultural systems, and destabilized cultures, causing massive migrations of peoples to fan out over the face of the globe, bringing social and political change wherever they went. Although...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Disaster Strikes: “All your vines are fatally condemned to disappear, Monsieur”
    (pp. 13-50)

    In summer 1866 a few grapevines in an obscure vineyard along the Rhône, in the South of France, withered and died. Others around them began to show signs of the same progression. Over the next thirty years the withering disease would spread throughout France and Europe and into North and South America, Africa, and Australia, destroying traditional wine growing and wine making everywhere it invaded. What was the nature and origin of this dreadful disease? More importantly, what could be done to stop it? Answering these questions generated enormous debate among scientists, much heat, and, at first, not much light....

  7. CHAPTER 2 La Défense: Sand, Submersion, and Sulfiding
    (pp. 51-78)

    Official recognition of the bug’s “unique responsibility” for the disease at first did little to abet the growing chaos. Between 1875 and 1881 the bug swept northward up the Rhône from the Hérault into southern Beaujolais and beyond. In the Gironde, the bug jumped the river and rapidly proceeded north, devastating the Charentais’ Cognac grapes. And, in a grand two-pronged pincers movement, the north arm of the westerly invasion from Montpellier met up with the eastward flow from Bordeaux in the region just east of Figeac; and the great southern arc of the vineyards of Montpellier, Carcassonne, Auch, and Bordeaux...

  8. CHAPTER 3 La Reconstitution
    (pp. 79-119)

    By 1882 it was clear that La Défense had failed. As much as official Paris wanted to keep American vines out and traditional French practices in, it wasn’t going to happen. Defending traditional French practices against the American insect scourge was simply too expensive and ineffective in terms of time, environment, labor, and finance. Luckily, even as La Défense was being proclaimed from Paris, alternatives to it were being tried and tested in the provinces. These alternatives all involved vines from America in one way or another. American vines functioned in three roles: as direct producers, grown on their own...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Underground Battle: Grafting on American Rootstock
    (pp. 120-162)

    The grafting of fruit, including grapevines, has been documented since Pliny. The procedure serves many purposes, but it is relatively simple in both concept and execution. Elements of two or more separate plants are physically united in such a way that root support from one is used by the other. There are nearly as many grafting techniques as there are grafting technicians, but for various reasons, mostly economic ones, only a few techniques dominate any given industry. French viticulture, however, started grafting from a knowledge base of essentially zero. When the first attempts at grafting against the phylloxera were made...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Phylloxera Makes the European Grand Tour
    (pp. 163-183)

    The bug respected no political boundaries. Even while it was strengthening its hold in France, advance parties were breaking out into the surrounding territory. Some invasions were slow and inevitable, proceeding at the pace of the natural expansion of the bug carried by wind and rain. Other places were hit violently, the invasion fueled by the importation and planting of infected vines from France. But what ever the pace, the expansion was unstoppable.

    First and worst hit was Portugal, followed soon by Switzerland and Italy. Although the phylloxera established itself wherever it landed, the course of the individual invasions varied...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Bug Goes South: New Venues, Same Story
    (pp. 184-200)

    Grapes and wine making came early to the southern hemisphere, on the heels of the colonizers. By the time of the phylloxera each of the major southern wine-producing regions—Australia, South Africa, and Argentina—had developed local industries of significance, and, in the case of South Africa, it had achieved considerable importance on the international scene.¹ But when the bug arrived in each of these places in turn, abrupt change was the immediate result. As we have seen before, many of the changes phylloxera produced were the same everywhere: loss of production, disastrous effects on the local economy, anxiety and...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Old Americans, or How the Fox Conquered Europe
    (pp. 201-210)

    “But their wine is undrinkable,” or so said Leo Laliman when he first alerted the wine world to the phylloxera resistance of the American vines. Yet the thirsty French vignerons learned to drink these undrinkable new wines soon enough. Within a few years the original American vines—the Old Americans—had spread throughout the south of France and were rapidly expanding their territory to the south and east.¹ In the end, the Old American vines could and still may be found all the way from France’s Atlantic coast in the north, to Greece’s Aegean coast in the south.

    These vines...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Phylloxera Breaks Out (Twice) in California
    (pp. 211-246)

    Grapes came to California early: Spanish padres brought vines with them from Baja California when they founded the first Alta California mission, Mission San Diego, in 1789 (Davidson and Nougaret 1921, 3). Undoubtedly the grape variety would have been the Mission, since it was the only variety planted at missions that were founded earlier and later.¹ This variety is enormously adaptable, flourishing equally well in the Central Valley, the Foothills, or along the coast where the missions were founded. Its wine is low in acid and alcohol, but there is lots and lots of it, due to Mission’s rugged fruitfulness....

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 247-250)

    A few sickened vines in an obscure vineyard in the Rhône Valley rapidly became a worldwide disaster for grapes, wine, and the people whose life they were. In the end, everything changed. And things are still changing, because the tiny yellow bug will always be with us. California now thoroughly understands this reality. We will never be able to relax: Darwinian principles tell us that there is always a moving offense and a moving defense, each eternally trying to win the unwinnable contest. Saving the vine from phylloxera is a never-ending battle (Gale 2003).

    It is not clear, and probably...

  15. APPENDIX A. Life Cycle of Phylloxera
    (pp. 251-252)
  16. APPENDIX B. American Wild Grape Species
    (pp. 253-256)
  17. APPENDIX C. Old American Varieties
    (pp. 257-258)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 259-284)
  19. Glossary
    (pp. 285-286)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-302)
  21. Index
    (pp. 303-323)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 324-324)