World’s worst wine disasters

Phylloxera

Nodositaet2Undoubtedly the worst disaster to ever hit the wine world, in the late 1800s a Phylloxera epidemic erupted throughout Europe coming close to killing pretty much every vine on the continent and all of its grape varieties.

Phylloxera, a microscopic aphid that eats the roots of grapes, is native to north America and was inadvertently introduced to Europe by Victorian botanists who had collected specimens of American vines in the 1850s and spread rapidly across the continent. In a desperate attempt to stem the spread, some French winemakers buried a live toad under each of its vines, apparently to draw out the poison, while others ripped up and burned their families ancient vines.

By the end of the 19th century the practice of grafting native American rootstocks, which are naturally resistant to the disease, onto European vines became popular, however such vines did not hold the same appeal as original vines.

European vines which withstood the epidemic are now among the most sought after wines. And while resistance to the bug has increased thanks to grafting, it remains a threat to winemakers.

2 Responses to “World’s worst wine disasters”

  1. Ducourt says:

    1956, the extreme frost wiped out 80% of all vineyards between Bordeaux and Languedoc

  2. Richard Smart says:

    Who wrote this about phylloxera…So many mistakes.

    There are several books on the subject, and a fulsome entry in the Oxford Companion to wine.

    Phylloxera did not come close “to killing every vine on the European continent, and all of its grape varieties”. There are experimental vineyards in France, on sandy soils, still own-rooted.
    Phylloxera was reported in a London glasshouse, and did not “devastate British vineyards”, probably the majority of which, and there are many more now, remain free of phylloxera.

    Burying toads under vines, which might be praised today as “biodynamic”, was one of many bizarre solutions offered for prize money. The solution was to graft to resistant American rootstocks. Sadly the author of the article confuses this process with “hybridisation” which is a sexual crossing of two varieties.

    Phylloxera is controllable by grafting on resistant rootstocks, and many but not all vines are planted this way. The vineyards of Chile are free of phylloxera, as are the great majority in Australia.

    I have recently written an article suggesting that grapevine trunk diseases pose a greater threat to the worlds vineyard than phylloxera. If you are going to include vineyard pests and diseases in “the worlds worst wine disasters”, trunk diseases and maybe red blotch virus are major omissions.

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