What is Grape Phylloxera?

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What was the reason for the phylloxera-related destruction of grapes and why is there no solution?
Phylloxera is an aphid or microscopic louse that feeds in and eats the rootstocks of the grapes. It can infest a winery by gnawing at the soles of the boots of a vineyard worker or spread from vineyard to vineyard due to the proximity.

A little history of the inexplicably bleak plight

A plague erupted across Europe that almost ended the life of every wine that was grown in the world. In the last quarter of the 1800’s wineries across Europe were ravaged and destroyed their families’ ancient vineyards in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease.

In the 1900s Phylloxera took a staggering death toll. More than 70% of vineyards in France were gone – the livelihoods for thousands of households was destroyed. Then the world was plunged into a global wine shortage.

In one case three precious parcels of Pinot Noir that were owned by Bollinger in Champagne miraculously resisted 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

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

Where did Phylloxera originate?

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

Sad tail the sad tail of Agoston Haraszthy

Phylloxera could have spread through the inadvertent acts by “Count” Agoston Haraszthy, the person who founded Sonoma’s most famous winery, Buena Vista Winery in 1857.

It was 1861 when Haraszthy was on a trip to Europe exploring the vineyards in 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 in Phylloxera throughout the U.S.. After much disappointment, Agoston Haraszthy filed for bankruptcy and moved out of to the U.S., never to ever return.

Researchers of the past put in a lot of effort to learn about the tiny louse.

The Genus Phylloxera is distinguished by having three antennae, the third one being longer, and also by having its wings spread flat on its back, instead of roof-style. It is a part of all-winged insects (Homoptera) and is divided between two families in that sub-order: that of the plant-lice (Aphididae) on one hand, and the bark-lice {(occidae)) to the contrary. The tarsus with one joint of the newly-hatched louse or larva and being oviparous, it exhibits connections to the family of the latter However, in the tarsus with two joints of older individuals as well as in other characters it is in essence an aphididan.
CHAS. V. RILEY, M. A., Ph. D. “The Grape Phylloxera” Popular Science, May 1874.

The Reward Wasn’t Paid!

More than 450 articles were published on the subject of Phylloxera during the time period 1868-1871. The research was conducted using testing plants as well as poison, flooding and different types of soil, grape breeding options and many more.

An independent team of researchers that included an Frenchman, Jules Emile Planchon along with one American, Charles Valentine Riley found an answer! The grafting of 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 in Bordeaux known as Leo Laliman did. Laliman took the experimental methods and transformed them into an industry practice in Bordeaux. The government rejected him for the reason that he’d only applied preventive measures, but did not develop the cure.

Phylloxera Legacy – European wines Grapes are infused with American Roots

Today, rootstock is employed in a large portion of the world of wine and phylloxera remains in danger.

The risk is the same when it comes to the U.S. In the 1990’s , a variant of Phylloxera known as “Biotype B,” was discovered to be flourishing in AXr1 which was a rootstock that was common. Two thirds of vineyards in Napa in the 1990’s were planted. Phylloxera has also decimated the ungrafted vineyards of Oregon and its owners believed that the louse wouldn’t overrun the fertile soils.

Phylloxera Resistant Vineyards

There are a few instances in which vineyards were not affected from the phylloxera of grapes. While some of these places remain undiscovered but a large portion of the vineyards with phylloxera resistance are located in areas that have strong winds.

Within Australia, Queensland was infected by the disease in the 1870s. The Australian government responded to protect their vineyards by enacting the Vine Protection Act of 1874 which ended the widespread method of transporting vines machines and equipment across the state. In the present, Tasmania and Western Australia have not yet been infested.