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Phylloxera: How Wine was Saved for the World [Paperback]

Christy Campbell
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Oct 2010

A historical investigation into the mysterious bug that wiped out the vineyards of France and Europe in the 1860s – and how one young botanist eventually ‘saved wine for the world’.

In the early 1860s, vines in the lower Rhône valley, and then around Bordeaux, inexplicably began to wither and die. Panic seized France, and Jules-Émile 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'. Where it had come from was utterly mysterious, but it advanced with the speed of an invading army. As the noblest vineyards of France came under biological siege, the world's greatest wine industry tottered on the brink of ruin. The grand owners fought the aphid with expensive insecticide, while peasant vignerons simply abandoned their ruined plots in despair. Within a few years the plague had spread across Europe, from Portugal to the Crimea.

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. Eventually Planchon and his supporters won the day, and phylloxera-resistant American vines were grafted onto European root-stock. Despite some setbacks – the first fruits of transplanted American vines were universally pronounced undrinkable – by 1914 all vines cultivated in France were hybrid Americans.

Phylloxera is an entertaining, revealing and frequently astonishing account of one of the earliest and most successful applications of science to an ecological disaster.

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Phylloxera: How Wine was Saved for the World + Wine and War: The French, the Nazis and France's Greatest Treasure + Judgment of Paris: California Vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine
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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; (Reissue) edition (4 Oct 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0007115369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007115365
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 178,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'An entertainingly educational story of scientific exploration, political filibustering, profiteering skulduggery and a disaster that was nearly total… This is not just a book for wine buffs. An intoxicating read.' Peter Millar, The Times

'The extraordinary tale of how France's wine industry was saved from a devastating plague by the New World.' Daily Mail

'Such are Christy Campbell's superb story-telling skills that, notwithstanding my woeful ignorance of science, botany and viticulture, I found myself utterly hooked on this fascinating piece of social history.' Hugh Massingberd, Daily Telegraph

'As Christy Campbell shows so vividly, the desperate search for both cause and cure involves all the elements of a good thriller… such a good read.' Joanna Simon, Sunday Times

'Phylloxera is a rattling good read; the author handles scientific material with such a nimble touch that at no point was I overcome by the onslaught of entomological detail.' Giles MacDonogh, Literary Review

The Times

'A rip-snorting, cliff-hanging story of how wine was saved'

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Phylloxera are tiny insects, native to the USA, which attack vines. They are almost invisible to the naked eye. While one variety of phylloxera attacks vine leaves, it is the second variety which poses a far more destructive threat. It attacks the roots. It can take up to ten years before the vine is actually killed.
In the 1860s, wine was rapidly growing in popularity; vineyards were being established on a worldwide scale, with Australia and the US beginning to break into the international market. For the first time, vines were being transported across the oceans in significant numbers as breeders tried to improve the various strains.
And in 1863, the small yellow louse known as phylloxera hitched a lift and invaded France, the country which saw itself as the home of wine. The French wine industry was almost destroyed. Frantic efforts were launched to find a solution. Finally, it was realised that native American rootstocks were resistant to assault, and that it was possible to graft European vines to them.
Problem solved? Not quite. Phylloxera are resilient little pests ... and they are still at work. They're now attacking vineyards in California, South America, and New Zealand. Replanting is expensive - and it can take ten years for a vine to produce quality grapes and become economically viable.
Christy Campbell tells the story with artistry and humour. In the end, it's not just a tale of wine, it's not just a piece of history. This is one of the earliest warnings of how vulnerable human society can be to even the tiniest of insects. In an era of globalisation, we may yet be opening ourselves up to global attack by new strains of insect or bacteria.
Fascinating, highly readable book which should appeal to the wine lover, the historian, or anyone who likes a good mystery ... or a well written analysis.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
One of the best wine books I ever read, full of history, geography and wine science all in a lovely story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great read for anyone interested in wine. 31 May 2013
By Anton
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What an interseting and well researched read this was. Anybody interested in history, France or wine should read it. Absolutely facinating.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive analysis of root loose that has impacted that world over 17 May 2007
By Wine lover - Published on
Undoubtly the most comprehensive report written on the root loose that has impacted almost every continent on the planet. An excellent guide for anyone interested in wine and history. Highly recommended for budding enologists and winemakers.
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