The Big Bad Phylloxera Blight

Sepulchritude Forum: The Absinthe Forum Archive Thru March 2002: Archive thru January 2002:The Big Bad Phylloxera Blight
By Dr_Ordinaire on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 11:48 pm: Edit

"Firstly, I know I speak for many, when I say how delighted I am to see the old Don back with with Dr.Ordinaire. Like many of you, I've been concerned that recently Don seemed to have mellowed....become, dare I say it....soft"

Oxy, I would never let this Forum go bland. When an adrenaline shot is needed, there goes the Doc!

If you want to be really shocked, check what TED told me on another thread....

By Luger on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 03:43 pm: Edit

"But having sampled lots of them, none is just what we are looking for. That's why we make our own."

I was just thinking about the "Where did Pernod get the Grape alcohol from when the bug came".
The Frenchmen are not known for silently suffer when their jobs get located elsewhere :-)

I was *not* entering the debate between you and Doc.

Peace: Luger

By Don_Walsh on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 02:07 pm: Edit

Italy is still a major producer of grape alcohol, but the problem remains that there are many different kinds of grape spirits, for use not only as liquors, or bases for liquors, but for making vinegar, for perfumery, for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, for use in the chemical industry, for lots of applications.

A vast spectrum of grades, purities, etc. There are even Kosher grades of grape alcohol.

But having sampled lots of them, none is just what we are looking for. That's why we make our own.

By Luger on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 01:18 pm: Edit

The grape alcohol Pernod used, was imported from Italy. If we speculate that they started to do this when the insect hit the French wine-industry, imagine how the French vine growers must have felt about it. In 1900 or so when they were on their feet again, Pernod might have stayed with their Italian grape alcohol.
It would not be the first or last time the French law was adjusted to fit their industry.

Just speculations.


By Mr_Rabid on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 12:02 pm: Edit

"However one thing would be for sure, if you were trying to get your industry back off of its arse you wouldn't be selling grapes for distillation to your competitors inthe absinthe business. "

Maybe, maybe not. You've got an assload of grapes from immature vines, totally useless in wine production, you aren't set up to distill and don't have the capital to get that way.

Fuck yeah. Sell them to Pernod, who will only be making ethanol with them anyway, and you use the money to get through the lean times.

That may be the answer.

By Don_Walsh on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 07:23 am: Edit

Oxygenee, do not let my genteel demeanor and urbane disposition conceal the fact that when attacked gratuitously by malicious nonentities, I transform into the very Balrog of Booze.

By Don_Walsh on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 04:06 am: Edit

Oxygenee, I'm glad to hear it.

By Oxygenee on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 04:01 am: Edit

Phylloxera spread incredibly fast - it covered most of Europe by 1872, less than a decade after it was first seen in France. It reached Australia 5 years later, and South Africa in 1885. By 1885, most of the high quality French vineyards had been replanted on grafted rootstock.

By Don_Walsh on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 03:59 am: Edit

The 1880s were not coincidentally the start of the anti-absinthe (and general anti-herbal liquor) campaigns, were they not?

Remember all the nonsense about prussic acid in 'absinthe' -- they were talking about other liquors, made from fruit with pits, that do contain prussic acid (cherries being a good example) but they used the derogatory 'absinthe' to smear them all.

The bans of 1910-1915 were the culmination of 30-35 years of campaigning.

By Oxygenee on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 03:51 am: Edit

Firstly, I know I speak for many, when I say how delighted I am to see the old Don back with with Dr.Ordinaire. Like many of you, I've been concerned that recently Don seemed to have mellowed....become, dare I say it....soft. Happily, the old firebreathing Don is back with a vengeance. Felicitations and huzzahs from those of us who admire the battle from the sidelines, and please don't ruin everything by taking it private.

Now, on to phylloxera. The situation is not as dire as Don surmises. The vast majority of modern wines and certainly all significant European wines are made from varieties of the Vitis Vinifera vine. Its this vine that the phyloxera beetle attacks. The several species of native American vines, especially Vitis Labrusca (commonly known as Concord), Vitis Aestivalis (from which the Norton grape is derived), Vitis Riparia, Vitis Rupestris andd Vitis Berlandieri all have varying degrees of inbred natural resistance to the beetle (technically: their roots develop a corky layer around the wounds left by the beetle, which protects the vine from the bacterial and fungal infections that would otherwise follow and eventually rot the root and kill the vine.). However, all these American varieties have a characteristic aroma known as "foxy" - charitably put, candy-like, less charitably but more accurately, like sweet damp fur. For this reason, with few exceptions (some sweet kosher wines, some sparkling wines)) they are generally not used directly for wine. The three most resistant varieties however, V.Riparia, Rupestris and Berlandieri have been extensively hybrydised to develop the phylloxera resistant rootstocks on which the vast majority of modern V.Vinifera vines are grafted. In hot countries like South Africa, Richter 99, which is a Berlandieri-Rupestris hybrid is the most widely used. As you would imagine, different rootstock hybrids impart different characteristics (drought tolerance, salt tolerance, vigour, resistance to other soil based pests) to the vine, and for this reason there are many hundreds of varieties in use.

One of the earliest rootstocks developed (in the late 1870's) was AXR1 (also called ARG1 in France). In these early days, the prevailing wisdom was that to minimize the effect on the taste of the wine made from grafted grapes (most experts at the time believed that grafted vines produced lower quality fruit), it would be best to use hybrid rootstocks made by crossing European V.Vinifera with one of the resistant American varieties. AXR1 was a Vinifera-Rupestris cross that was initially very successful, both because it resulted in high vigour, and because it was easy and fast to graft ( a big issue at the time, with 1000's of hectares of
French vineyards needing immediate replanting. Nowadays, grafting is done by machine, capable of preparing 10000's of vines per day). With hindsight we can now see that the decision to include V.Vinifera plant material in the hybrid was bound to end in tears, but of course this was not clear at the time. By the end of the nineteenth century though, as a result of extensive testing in France, and interestingly, South Africa, AXR1 was found to be insufficiently phylloxera resistant, and was replaced by other, all American hybrids.

In California however, it continued to be very widely used until the early 1980's. There are small but significant differences in the strains of phylloxera prevalent in different regions, and it seemed that AXR1 provided sufficient protection against the Californian beetle. In the mid 80's however, a new strain of phylloxera, Biotype B, gained a foothold in California, and rapidly began to decimate vineyards planted on AXR1 rootstock. A significant percentage of especially Napa and Sonoma vineyards were effected, and most of these were replanted in the 1990's, a process that it still in some areas ongoing.

So in summary, ungrafted vineyards - parts of Australia and Chile, a few pockets in France (Bollinger's famous pinot noir vineyard, some Loire vineyards), Portugal (Colares) etc will always be at risk, and will probably eventually succumb. So will those vineyards still based on AXR1 and the very few other Vinifera-American hybrid rootstocks. The overwhelming majority of vineyards, including essentially all of France, Spain, Italy, Germany etc will remain fully phylloxera resistant, based as they are on all-American rootstocks.

By Absinthedrinker on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 03:48 am: Edit

To produce a half decent wine you would need to wait at least 7 years, to produce the sort of rot gut that the majority of French vineyards would have been churning out at the time probably a few years less. However one thing would be for sure, if you were trying to get your industry back off of its arse you wouldn't be selling grapes for distillation to your competitors inthe absinthe business.

I'd have to look up references for the time scale of phylloxera, it arrived in Europe around 1860 (ironically on vine cuttings which were brought over from America to try and treat Oidium, which was a problem in Europe). The infected stock was shipped all over Europe, not just France, and it would have been a while before they worked out a) what it was that was causing the problem and b) how to treat it. My guess is that the French vineyards would have been regrafted and in production by the 1880s.

By Petermarc on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 03:40 am: Edit

it started in the 1870's and was over by the turn of the century...1899 and 1900 were great bordeaux vintages...coincidence? i think not...

By Don_Walsh on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 03:30 am: Edit

So UC Davis...upgefucked!

Fascinating stuff.

How many years between replanting of a vineyard and full productivity?

At what point was the French wine industry essentially recovered from the blight in the mid 1800s?

Because that speaks to the timing of the onslaught of anti-absinthe propaganda.

By Absinthedrinker on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 02:53 am: Edit

Phylloxera has now affected all of the world's vineyards with the exception of Chile. It certainly spread quickly beyond France and into the Iberian peninsula as well as East into Switzerland and Germany. There are still a few ungrafted vineyards around the world, mostly those on gravelly soil which hinders the progress of the bug (the vineyards that produce Fonseca's Nacional port are a notable example). Whether or not vineyards were directly destroyed by Phylloxera or not was largely academic. The only way to prevent the destruction of the vines was by grafting onto North American rootstocks and this effectively meant replanting the whole vineyard and waiting several years until the vines were mature enough to produce decent wine. Native American rootstocks do get attacked by Phylloxera vastrix but the wounds are self-healing whereas the vessels in European rootstock become blocked and the vine is starved of nutrients. So grafting cannot eradicate the disease, only mask it. The Californian case is a special one. UC Davis recommended all Californian growers to plant onto one high yielding rootstock ( AXR1 I think) back in the 70s but it was not as resistant as they thought (phylloxera wasn't considered to be a problem back then). Elsewhere in the world many different varieties of rootstock are in use and so this will not be a problem.

By Petermarc on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 02:15 am: Edit

i'll try to find the vineyard i know of tonight and let you know...i believe the soil is 'silex'
or flint-based...

By Don_Walsh on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 02:08 am: Edit

From my reading everyplace is at risk. There are many kinds of phylloxera but of course it's the grape phylloxera we are talking about.

If the aphids have developed an ability to eat North American rootstock, which appears to be the case, then the last and only line of defense worldwide is gone, if the bugs get out of California.

As to Spain etc in the 19th century blight: my best guess is that indeed they were all infested, France was just the first. But, by the time Spain, Germany, and Italy had the pest, the solution -- grafting the vines to American rootstock -- was known. For a whole lot of the French vineyards that solution came too late.

So it's logical to assume that countries/regions that were hit later, suffered less, because the rootstock grafting procedural fix came along in time for them. Not so France, which was the epicenter. No wonder they don't like Americans!

And this is exactly what is still done to the present day.

Now the N.American rootstock is at risk due to aphid mutation. DAMN!

By Luger on Wednesday, January 16, 2002 - 01:48 am: Edit

Where are the wine-lovers when you need them?
It's the same as with smokers. You spend all your life trying to avoid them, but when you need a lighter, none is to be seen anywhere :-( :-(

"The insect prefers soils high in clay content that dry and crack, affording access to new root systems."

Could this be the answer? I know that the Frenchmen pay a lot attention to he kind of soil the Vines grow in, and some are clay, and some are not. So what kind of soil is in the untouched valleys?

( I seem to remember that Spain was infected also but that was from a TV show, not the most reliable kind of source :-) )


By Perruche_Verte on Tuesday, January 15, 2002 - 07:31 pm: Edit

So it's not restricted to certain latitudes?

I am wondering if the wineries in the Pacific Northwest, New York State, Minnesota, etc., are at risk also.

By Don_Walsh on Tuesday, January 15, 2002 - 06:05 pm: Edit

Well I did a little research.

This is an aphid pest that is native to North America. It was accidentally introduced to France in the mid 1800s with the results we all know about.

It is still a major problem in the wine industry worldwide. The most recent outbreaks in Australia for example were 1994-95.

There is no cure, vines become uneconomical 2-3 years after infestation and die in 10 years, the aphids eat the roots.

There is no known chemical or biological control.

N.American rootstock is phylloxera-resistant, so, it was grafting of American rootstock onto European vines that saved the European wine industry and is still the only technique for defeating this insect.

A California outbreak is presently under way, a new variant phylloxera that attacks N.American rootstocks, this is obviously a threat to the world's wine industry if not contained.

Phylloxera was and is spread by the following vectors:

Grapevine materials
Machinery and vehicles
Grape products such as must and juice

I'm sure Oxygenee can tell us more as South Africa has not been untouched by this.

The insect prefers soils high in clay content that dry and crack, affording access to new root systems.

By Don_Walsh on Tuesday, January 15, 2002 - 05:39 pm: Edit

Luger raised a good point in another thread.

Why was the phylloxera blight confined to France (if it was)?

The Pyrenees as a geographical/climatic barrier, OK, but how about insect migration piggyback on ships? Or were steps taken to preclude this?

And, if Italian and Spanish wine production was so untouched and plentiful, why didn't the French start drinking Spanish and Italian wines?

(Would they rather go without for half a century than do that?)

What about German and Swiss wines?

Are there maps detailing the progress and extent of the blight?

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