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The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World [Hardcover]

Christy Campbell

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (25 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156512460X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565124608
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14 x 3.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,154,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Book by Campbell Christy

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Victory Over the Aphids 13 May 2005
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Legendary French wines were almost wiped out when the vines that produced their grapes withered in the nineteenth century. The problem was one that has become familiar; our capacity to ship species from one continent to another has meant that we can have much more variety in our plants and animals, but it also endangers the homebodies that have to meet the newcomers. In _The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World_ (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill), Christy Campbell writes that in the 1840s, trade in grape vines proceeded with "no barriers, no inspectorate, no concept of biological quarantine." The result was that tiny aphids with an extraordinary life cycle made their entry from America into France, and found the sap of the French grape vines exactly to their liking. Campbell has told the story of this disaster much like a mystery, and indeed, the vintners who saw their vines rapidly wither had no idea what was happening. A voracious caterpillar had threatened their plants two decades before, and a fungus had come shortly afterwards, but no one had seen a pattern of vine death like this one, with the leaves rapidly drying and curling up. There were only guesses about what was going on; too much rain, smoke in the air or iron in the soil from locomotives, and even emanations from telegraph lines were held to be responsible. Perhaps it was as simple as soil erosion or bad weather. No one knew.

The problem was an aphid usually called phylloxera. It took a long time to finger this particular culprit for many reasons, among which was that the tiny insect was not found on the dead vines. The simple explanation was that the aphids sucked all the sap they could out of the roots of the plant, and with nothing further to eat, moved on. Eventually, entomologists worked out the confusing life cycle of the aphid, which included several different forms of adults, some laying eggs on leaves, some laying eggs on the roots, and others having flying sexual forms. The aphids had been brought to France from America. The aphids and the American vines had long ago drawn a truce; aphids still infested the plants, but the plant developed mechanisms to keep alive through the assault, and the aphids settled in to feeding steadily off the living rather than killing the plants outright. The French vines had no such protection, so the aphids sucked them dry and moved on. Before finding an elegant solution to the problem, vintners simply had to pull up the dead vines and start growing something else, but that did not keep them from trying fanciful remedies, especially when the government offered a reward. Some proposed setting vials of holy water from Lourdes among the withering vines. Putting potatoes or frogs into the soil to draw away the poison had equal effect. Snail slime was championed, as were marching bands and a "beating wheelbarrow." Insecticides were useless. The problem had come from America, and the solution was from America as well. The solution was to use the root stocks of the American vines (vines which bore grapes the French considered vastly inferior), but to graft upon them the French vines which had been cultivated for centuries.

Campbell has told an enthralling story of science at work. It is a true success story, but attempts to control nature seldom result in total or permanent success. The final section of his book reveals that outbreaks continue to occur and that the insects can develop new strains to which the old solution does not apply. Perhaps the rootstocks can be immunized. Perhaps, in these days of genetic modification, the genes from American vines that co-evolved with the phylloxera could be somehow inserted into the French varieties. GM wines are probably inevitable. The wine world used its wits to battle one pest successfully a century ago, but there will be others, and the story is not all told yet.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE WINE BUG 22 Sep 2005
By charles falk - Published on Amazon.com
This is a marvelous book that will appeal equally to wine buffs, history buffs, science buffs, and the general reader. It is constructed like a mystery story (replete with detectives, victims, and villains) about the search for the cause and cure for a grapevine malady that began decimating European vineyards in the 1860s. Don't be put off by the inept title on the American edition.

Christy Campbell turns the Byzantine life cycle of Phylloxera vastatrix into a plot device to be unraveled by doughty scientific sleuths on both sides of the Atlantic. He describes the tragic effect of the plague on peasant vignerons of the Midi, where it first appeared, and the resulting political fallout. Bizarre remedies and inventions offered to cope with this root aphid provide comic relief. Campbell even includes short summaries of the afterlives of his chief protagonists. The book has excellent maps and a detailed timeline to help the reader keep track of the sequence of events.

Campbell is neither a wine writer nor an enthusiast, but rather the defense correspondent for the British Sunday Telegraph. His two previous books dealt with Victorian political intrigues. Nevertheless, his meticulous research in French archives has unearthed information that will be new even to those who think they are well informed about Phylloxera.

The weakest part of the book is its final chapter, a hodgepodge dealing with the new outbreak of Phylloxera in California beginning in the 1980's and other recent developments. After the thorough way Campbell dealt with earlier events, its brevity is disappointing. He is much more lenient with the mandarins of UC Davis than with the scientific bureaucrats of 19th century France. He goes into great detail about the confusion engendered by official pronouncements in the earlier era, but ignores the obfuscation and mixed messages that emanated from Davis during the California crisis. Instead he marvels at the scientific tools quickly brought to bear on the problem. Nor does Campbell analyze the economic consequences of the "reconstitution" of California viticulture -- Perhaps because it is still playing out. For bad measure he includes a few pages about genetic engineering of grapevines and a five page "Postcript" on the question of whether wine from grafted vines tastes as good as that from those grown on their own roots. All three topics deserve betters treatment than is offered here.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK bordering on lousy 10 Mar 2006
By Tony Purmal - Published on Amazon.com
When I got this book I looked forward to an exciting, intriguing story based on the reviews I'd read. Unfortunately what I found was an unimpressive, somewhat disorganized telling of a great story. I found the writing to be rather boring and uninspired. The organization of the story was disappointing and I felt that the characters could have been more fully developed.

It would have been nice if the publishers had seen fit to place the photographs and drawings in the book accompanying the text. It also would have been nice to have had more maps in the book showing the spread of the phylloxera.

I love books on science and I love books on wine, so it isn't as if I was a mystery fan who was sucked into reading this book based on the hype. I was disappointed in the way the story was told, the way the information was organized and the lack of accompanying material to bring it all together. I give the book a thumbs up for the information in it and a thumbs down for the way it was written and presented.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of three plagues 31 Dec 2005
By Reader from Yellow River - Published on Amazon.com
Grape vines have been around for a long time. Charles Darwin suggested all grapes were descended from grapes now growing wild in western Asia. From Asia, these wild grapes were carried into Europe and North Africa by the ancient Phoenicians and Romans. But the Asian grapes had actually been originally brought there from Italy. And the Italian grapes had actually been originally brought to Italy from southern France, where the oldest grape fossils have been found. So French grapes have always been influential grapes!

But North America has long been known for grapes too. In fact, Scandinavians of the eleventh century under Leif Ericsson called the continent Vinland, because of all the wild grapes. Spanish explorers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries brought European vines with them. The vines did well with the first Spanish settlements of California. But in the rest of North America, the European vines died within a few years of being planted.

So winegrowers turned native, wild grapes into wine-yielders. These wild grapes got the attention of the wine world, because of their "robust" temperament. But they were also criticized for their "foxy," "musky," or "raspberry" taste.

Nevertheless, Frenchmen began importing sample American grape vines in the early 19th century, and even more so in the 1860s. For the first plague ran its course in the 1840s and 1850s. A fungal parasite called oidium went hog wild on southern European vines. Powdered sulphur fungicide saved French wine production from collapse. It was noted at the time that imported American vines successfully stood up against oidium.

Then, in the 1860s, vines started dying in England and Ireland. Vines were uprooted. Yellow-orange bugs were found all over them. Samples were sent to Oxford scholar and Professor John Obadiah Westwood. He identified the culprit in England and named it the aphid.

Across the Channel, in France, the plague began with a sealed box of aphid-covered vines sent from New York to wine merchant Borty of Roquemaure, Gard. The plague spread from there throughout most of France and much of the wine-making world. By the 1870s, the plague had spread to California. The aphids went hog wild on the old European vines of Napa and Sonoma counties.

Many solutions were offered, such as burning, flooding, spraying, and uprooting. What finally worked was grafting European stems to American roots. For American roots weren't affected by aphids, natives of eastern and southern North America. The two had found a way to live together over time. Therefore, by the beginning of the 20th century, THE BOTANIST AND THE VINTNER had gotten this second plague under control.

So I can imagine the disbelief and horror when the plague burst out again, in California's Napa Valley in 1983. How could science have failed? A new strain of aphids had developed. This strain had no problems not trying to live with European stems grafted to American roots.

Will there be more plagues? Science's answer these days is the controversial genetic engineering. Specifically, genes from the snowdrop and from barley help grape vines fight, respectively, [1] wire-worms and aphids; and [2] molds. As a Virginia Tech-trained master gardener and advanced land care steward, I'd also hope for some natural solutions.

Author Christy Campbell has written a clear, interesting account of HOW WINE WAS SAVED FOR THE WORLD. He makes the scientific information understandable. He includes historic photographs and maps which give an idea of the problem and the frantic scurry for a solution.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting story - poorly conveyed. 30 Mar 2007
By Brandine - Published on Amazon.com
This is an extremely interesting biological and viticultural story. Unfortunately the history is poorly and haphazardly organized. Although Campbell strives to make the characters (scientists, viticulturists, and bureaucrats)three dimensional - his insistence on chronologically following the activities of multiple individuals comes at a high cost of understanding. The story would have been better told - I feel - by focusing on fewer players or including a more organized interspersion of biological context.
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