tiny wine blog: Tiny bugs that chomp on vines: Phylloxera

Disease & Pests in Vines
Fascinating stuff those pests and diseases. They come in all sorts of flavors and shapes and sizes.
Bacteria. Molds. Tiny bugs. Birds. Baboons.
The one that gets a lot of attention is the "perfect storm"-esque Phylloxera.

A years back, I read that 'The Botanist & the Vintner' book that was all about phylloxera (Fa-Lox-er-ra). It's a fine book.
Phylloxera is a tiny aphid from the United States who hitched a ride over to France back in the 1860's - and then munched his way across France and the rest of Europe, and then pretty much everywhere else.

How did it "hitch" a ride? There was a huge geeky botany thing going in Europe since they were discovering so many new species of plants in the new world. There weren't customs guys at the airports in those days. Or airports.

You know what this aphid loves to eat on more than anything? Those fancy European vines.

The vines in the USA were fine and could survive his chomping. He'd chomp on the American vines and they would have a little scar but that would be it.
Now, the vines in France would have a little scar that would never quite heal - and then all sorts of crap would get in and eventually kill the vine.

Did you know about phylloxera? I ask this because when I started paying attention to wine, I was surprised at how widespread and devastating this was to the wine world.
For about twenty years starting around 1870, this guy basically was eating and killing almost every vine in Europe.
Every vine.

The wine world as we know was close to vanishing.
Bye Burgundy! Bye Bordeaux! Bye Champagne! Bye everyone!

Freaking Out
This book I mentioned recounted all sorts of tragically hilarious ways that people came up with to defeat this bug. Many said it was the wrath of God punishing them for their crazy modern lifestyles.
Others came up with cures that usually had people dumping lethal chemicals onto the vines.

The solution (eventually) was to graft the European vines onto the root systems of American vines. The American ones weren't generally being hurt by the aphid - and since it attacked the roots only, then this would work fine.
I had forgotten all my biology and plant stuff, but you can graft vines together and the characteristics of the root does not influence the taste of the fruit up top. Which was important because the American vines that were resistant to phylloxera made crappy wines.
So, you could take your classic European vine and plop it on to the top of an American root system and all would be well.
I am simplifying this quite a bit (the "plop" part has lots of variations and techniques).

Phylloxera is now pretty much all over the world with a few exceptions usually due to some sort of barrier like water or mountains or teens. Still, I find it fascinating how close the world came to losing these traditional, classic grapes and wines.

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