Phylloxera

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

This small yellow root-feeding aphid has probably had a more damaging impact on wine production than any other vine pest, or any vine disease. It attacks only grapevines, and kills vines by attacking their roots. For many years after it first invaded Europe there was no known cure.

The effects of phylloxera were first noted in France in 1863, just as the country was recovering from another great scourge of 19th-century European viticulture: oidium, or powdery mildew, which was first noted in 1847. Like powdery mildew, and the other fungal diseases yet to arrive (downy mildew in 1878 and black rot in 1885), the phylloxera louse was an unwelcome import from America which devastated European vineyards until appropriate control measures were found. In the history of agriculture it rivals the potato blight of Ireland as a plant disease with widespread social effects. In France, for example, almost 2.5 million ha/6.2 million acres of vineyards were destroyed, the aphid making no distinction between the vineyards of the most famous châteaux and those of humble peasants. For individual French vine-growers from the late 1860s, the sight of their vineyards dying literally before their eyes was particularly traumatic, although the epidemic soon spread elsewhere. Phylloxera invasion had a major social and economic impact, involving national governments and local committees, and requiring international scientific collaboration. For a while the very existence of the French wine industry was threatened. (See burgundy, modern history, for example.)