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 spread from vineyard to vineyard due to close proximity.

A brief history of the interminable struggle

A pandemic erupted in Europe that almost completely destroyed all wineries around the globe. In the latter part of 1800 wineries across Europe were ravaged and burned family’s old vineyards in an attempt to stop the spread of diseases.

In the early 1900s, Phylloxera was taking a colossal cost: more than 70 percent of vineyards in France had died and the lives that thousands of family members was destroyed. Then the world plunged into a global wine shortage.

In one case three precious parcels of Pinot Noir belonging to Bollinger in Champagne miraculously resisted the gloom. The resultant 3000 bottles wine dubbed “Vieille Vignes Francaises” (French Old Vines) were the most sought-after Champagne bottles.

An Bounty for the Cure

In a state of shock by the wrath of the minister of Agriculture and Commerce in France provided 20,000 Francs, or $1 million today – to anyone who could discover a solution.

Click here for the legacy of phylloxera.

Where did Phylloxera originate?

We’re sorry to say that it was out of in the 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 activities that were taken by “Count” Agoston Haraszthy, the person who founded Sonoma’s first winery, Buena Vista Winery in 1857.

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

Unfortunately, the vines went brown and died. It was the first outbreak caused by Phylloxera within 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.

Researchers of the past took great pains to comprehend the tiny louse.

The Genus Phylloxera is distinguished by having three antennae, the third one being the longest, as well as having its wings spread flat on its back, instead of roof-style. It is part of insects with wings that are whole (Homoptera) and is divided between two major families in that sub-order: that of the plant-lice (Aphididae) on one hand, and the bark-lice {(occidae)) in the opposite. In the tarsus that is one-jointed of the newly-hatched louse or larva and being oviparous, it displays affinity with the second family However, in the two-jointed tarsus that is found in older individuals and in every other character 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 publications were released on the subject Phylloxera during the time period 1868-1871. Research was conducted using tests of plants as well as poison, flooding varieties, different types of soil, grape breeding methods and many more.

An independent group of researchers , including 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 rootstock stopped the root-eating louse.

Although the researchers who developed the initial research never wanted the money that grew to almost $5 million of today’s dollars A viticulturist in Bordeaux known as Leo Laliman did. Laliman had taken the experiment methods and transformed them into commercial practices in Bordeaux. The government refused to approve and claimed that he’d just employed preventive measures but did not develop the cure.

Europe Wine Grapes that have American Roots

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

The risk is the same than in U.S. In the 1990’s , a variant of Phylloxera known as “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 which owners thought that the louse would not be able to infest the soils of virgin sites.

Phylloxera Resistant Vineyards

There are a few instances in which vineyards were not affected from the phylloxera of grapes. Although many of these areas remain undiscovered however, the majority of the vineyards with phylloxera resistance are located in areas that experience strong winds.

Within Australia, Queensland was infected during the 1870s. The Australian government responded to safeguard their vineyards by enacting the Vine Protection Act of 1874 that ended the usual practice of transporting grapes machinery and other equipment across the state. In the present, Tasmania and Western Australia are not yet infested.