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Home » What Is Phylloxera And Why Is It Important?

What Is Phylloxera And Why Is It Important?

At some point during every wine lover’s journey you will encounter mysterious references to the phylloxera. What exactly is it and what is the important?

Phylloxera is an aphid-like bug (a louse) which feeds on the grapevine’s roots, destroying the grapevine. The pest moved across Eastern North America to Europe and destroyed vineyards in the latter part of the 1800s. The only way to prevent it is to transplant resistant to phylloxera American roots of grapevine on European vines (aka Vitis Vinifera – e.g., Merlot, Chardonnay etc.). While we’ve known the method for over 100 years, it was known that phylloxera had been an issue for the grape growers in California in the 1980s.

Grapevine Phylloxera: The Devastatrix

Phylloxera (pronounced”fel-OX-era”) is tiny louse that moves through a complex life cycle on grapevines. It’s a species that is found on native grapevines of the eastern region of the North American continent, phylloxera and the particular vines evolved through millennia of synbiotic relationship.

The world was abuzz in the early 1900s when botanical enthusiasts unknowingly transferred phylloxera to Europe, Australia, and even to the western US during the late 1800s. The idea of sharing exotic plants with friends and relatives was the norm at the time (Victorians are a good example ) And among the marine-bred specimens were those from the native American grapevines.

Not only the vines made the trip, but they also the stow-away insects.

From garden plots and greenhouses from greenhouses and garden plots France, phylloxera was systematically marching across Europe throughout the 1900s and ultimately decimated the winegrowing industry. The Vitis vinifera, also known as European grapevines, didn’t have the natural resistance to the phylloxera. Every single vine that was affected by phylloxera fell.

When France’s wine production declined and the wine-producing regions were rediscovered, other lesser-known regions rose to replace it with surprising results.

Paris :Librairie agricole de la maison rustique,1829-1974..

First, experienced French vineyard managers and viniculturalists moved to regions that were not affected by the phylloxera. This had a positive net impact, enhancing the quality of local wine and improving winemaking knowledge in all areas where French workers migrated to make wine.

The second reason was the necessity in exporting highly skilled labourers and import wine to the thirsty population led to an increase in commercial and agricultural traffic among France and other wine-growing regions, which was made possible by newly constructed railway systems. This has accelerated the spread of phylloxera to vineyards across Europe.

The result was that, by 1910, almost all European wine-producing region had remained unaffected.

The 1890s depiction of a grapevine rootstock prior to and following an infestation of phylloxera.

The 1890s depiction of a grapevine rootstock, before and after an outbreak of phylloxera.

How can winegrowers prevent Phylloxera?

The only method of prevention that is known for treating phylloxera is root transplantation.

The practice of grafting in the horticultural field has been used for many years. This easy procedure takes the phylloxera-resistant rootstocks (the root-stem at the bottom of a vine) from the native American vine species Vitis berlandieri, Vitis riparia or Vitis rupestris and connects it to the European fine-wine producing plant Vitis vinifera (the green leafy portion that grows on the vine).

Grafting was the solution to damaged vineyards.

When phylloxera struck the vineyards of virginity around Europe in the beginning of the 1900s, the remedy was widely known. Grape growers swiftly grafted their vineyards and only lost some years of production.

Grafting has become an evolving science. Nurseries can propagate new vines by using root grafts that incorporate drought resistance, phylloxera and even tolerance to salinity in the soil. Yay! Science!

The article from 1898 in the San Francisco newspaper announcement stating that the application of bacteria could help to treat the phylloxera. Before grafting was popular the purported cures for phylloxera were similar to snake oil. every salesman offered an answer.

A article from 1898 in the San Francisco newspaper announcement stated that the application of bacteria could help to treat the phylloxera. Before grafting was popular and phylloxera cures claimed to be like snake oil. every salesperson had solutions.

Are All Grapevines Are grafted?

Not all grapevines can be transplanted. Vines with roots that are owned by the vine, which have not been grafted and that can thrive from their roots are rare, but sought-after by wine lovers. Certain conditions allow this to be done.
Special Sandy Soils.

Phylloxera isn’t a good choice for sandy soils that are deep and deep and therefore, vineyards that are fortunate enough to have the soils of these conditions may be rooted by themselves.

Jargon Alert”Ow-rooted” is a way to indicate that the vine hasn’t been transplanted.

Geographically remote.

Some grape producing regions across the globe have not saw the pest being introduced.

Chile has the distinction of being the sole major global producer of grapes which has never experienced the phylloxera.

The Andean mountains to the west as well as The Atacama Desert to the north effectively separated the country invading insects from the land. Today strict quarantine laws safeguard the Chilean wine industry.

Perhaps the most well-known resistance to phylloxera is the vineyards in Barossa Valley located in Australia that are still free of phylloxera for more than 150 years since the outbreak of the bug hit the continent. Older vines planted in 1890s are credited with the famed label of being the oldest around the globe’ due to their free of phylloxera.

Some vineyard owners opt to plant newer vineyards using American rootstock to hedge their bets against the likelihood of the arrival of phylloxera. Others are convinced of the strength of Barossa Valley’s incomparable background against the louse.

Phylloxera legacy – Is Phylloxera Still an Issue?

One might think that known-prevention vignerons would have said goodbye to their arch-nemesis aphid in the year 1910.

AXR1 AXR1, a infamous rootsstock hybrid that crossed V. vinifera with V. rupestris has gained a lot of attention throughout North America as a suitably resistant to phylloxera. The rootstock was not a success across Europe as well as South Africa, however, and despite the warnings issued to their viticultural relatives across the Atlantic, it appeared to be able to produce positive performance in California. Thus, the vineyard owners planted AXR1 widely throughout Napa along with Sonoma.

Unfortunately, AXR1’s vinifera-related parentage which is a tiny portion of vinifera’s DNA, proved to be fatal for vines. In the 1980s, owners of vineyards were forced to tear up their vineyards to replant them with fully resistant phylloxera rootstocks.

My vinous dear friends, is a short overview of the phylloxera.