Minuscule: The Vine-Louse

It is called phylloxera, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae, the grapevine-louse. It is a tiny insect which sucks the sap from the roots of grape vines, killing them.

It came from North America, where the native American grapes (think Concord) were resistant to them. The European wine-grapes (think Pinot Noir) were not.

It was a plague. It spread from plant to plant, from vineyard to vineyard, from country to country. There was no way to stop it and it left nothing alive. Between 1875 and 1890, nine tenths of the vineyards in Europe were destroyed. The grape was going extinct. It was expected that children born in the twentieth century would never taste wine.

So the Baron de Rothschild – owner of the great Lafite – conceived a plan of desperation. He took the few vines he had left alive and he uprooted them, cleaning their roots and leaves as best he could. He put them in pots of soil and put the pots aboard a ship. He sent the ship to South America, a distance of over seven thousand miles. And that sailing-ship landed in Buenos Aires and took the grapes into the highlands, and planted them in that distant soil.

It was hoped that these new grapes would be so far away that the vine-louse would not reach them. They would never make Chateau Lafite but perhaps they could make something good of their own. And perhaps one day, when all the grapes of Europe were dead, a cure might be found. On that day the children of these exiled vines could come home, and repopulate the vineyards of the Old World.

Not long after this, the wines of Europe were saved. Winemakers saw that American grapes were resistant to phylloxera, so they took the roots of American grapes and grafted onto them the great grapes of Europe. The grapes flourished. The rootstock held. The vine-louse was thwarted. Though some say the wine does not taste the same.

But the best grapes in the world had already been sent to the far side of the world. And there, in that different clime, they flourish to this day. The wine does not taste the same – but instead, it tastes like the wine of Argentina.


~ by davekov on 27 September 2015.

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