on 31 December 2004
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.