Macabeo became the principle white grape of Rioja, Spain; Grenache became prominent in the Cotes du Rhone; and Carmenere was exiled from Bordeaux. All of these changes and many more resulted when Europe was invaded by a critter only one millimeter long, the dreaded North American phylloxera aphid, which originated here in the eastern United States. As a result radical change was forced upon european grape growers as that wine industry was brought to its knees by the beastie and viticultural history would be written anew with consequential decisions being made in the interest of future generations of wine lovers.
1858 is often cited as the beginning of the phylloxera invasion when growers began noticing diseased vines in Spain and France. In 1863 Languedoc-Roussillon, the extent of the problem was fully acknowleged for what it was, even if the cause was still unknown. In 1868 the bug was discovered and solutions began to be offered including flooding the vineyards, creating French-American hyrid grapevines, spraying chemical insecticides, and grafting european vinifera vines onto disease-resistent American rootstocks. By 1880 grafting prevailed but not without years of resistance from well meaning nativists who feared the end of european quality wine as it was then known.
Why the mystery about the bug? A bug is a bug, right? Squash him. Well yes but that's easy to say from our vantage point. In that simpler time dealing with an unknown foe like phylloxera meant catching him first and he is elusive to say the least. The aphid's probosis contains two tubes, one for taking in nourishment and the other for injecting venom into its host. When the food source collapsed it was time to move on to a new host just as the signs of trouble in the health of the plant were appearing. Moreover, the bug reproduced sexually and asexually with four self-contained life stages (18 stages overall) migrating from the roots outward and upward to stem and leaves, and even more moreover, in different environments the species' reproductive patterns differed from other places. This is the bug from hell. For real expertise on this subject go to www.teara.govt.nz/en/viticulture/5/1 and www.winepros.com.au/jsp/cda/reference/oxford_entry.jsp?entry_id=2410.
So why bring up phylloxera now? I had planned to write about Macabeo and got distracted. Stop in this month and say "phylloxera" three times, cite the blog, and get 10% off on wine or 20% off on cheese.