A historical investigation into the mysterious bug that wiped out the vineyards of first France and then Europe in the 1860s - and how one young botanist, who had served an apprenticeship at Kew Gardens, eventually "saved wine for the world".
In the early 1860s, vines in the lower Rhone valley, and then around Bordeaux, inexplicably began to wither and die. Panic seized France, and Jules-Emile Planchon, a botanist from Montpellier, was sent to investigate. Magnifying glass in hand, he discovered the roots of a dying vine covered in microscopic yellow insects.
The tiny aphid would be named Phylloxera vastatrix - "the dry leaf devastator". As the noblest vineyards of France came under biological siege, the world's greatest wine industry tottered on the brink of ruin.
Planchon, aided by the American entomologist Charles Riley, discovered that the parasite had accidentally been imported from America. He believed that only the introduction of American vines, which appeared to have developed a resistance to the aphid, could save France's vineyards. His opponents maintained that this would merely assist the spread of the disease.
Meanwhile, encouraged by the French government's offer of a prize of 300,000 gold francs for a remedy, increasingly bizarre suggestions flooded in, and many wine-growing regions came close to revolution as whole local economies were obliterated.
Phylloxera is an entertaining, revealing and frequently astonishing account of one of the earliest and most successful applications of science to an ecological disaster.
- Publication Date:
- 01 / 05 / 2004
- 135 x 216mm