An Evaluation of Phylloxera’s Impact on Spain

Phylloxera proved to be an ecological and financial disaster for Europe’s winemaking industry, including Spain. However, its influence eventually led to the beginning of a new era of vineyards in the region. The global phylloxera outbreak was a new event for the entire world.

The Spanish Advantage

Even before phylloxera hit, France was having issues with grapevine diseases. In the 1840s odium, a type of fungus, damaged the harvests of many of France’s wine regions. With a limited supply of wine, France was forced to bring in wine from neighboring countries. This created rapid growth in Spain’s wine industry especially in regions near the large ports where it was easiest to transport wine[1].

In the 1860s, phylloxera was first discovered in Southern France. It didn’t take long for the insect to make its way across the border to Spain. However, since Spain had already set up a wine exporting relationship with France, they didn’t suffer as much as they could have. In 1877, the two countries set up a trade agreement, allowing Spanish wine to easily enter France. Between 1860 and 1888, Spain’s grape growing regions grew more than 40%. With this extra income flowing, Spain’s wine producing regions were able to better cope with the incoming phylloxera epidemic.

Due to exponential growth, Spain surpassed France as the world’s leading wine exporter. However, France remained the country’s most significant client. Even though bulk wine received the most attention, several noteworthy developments occurred. For example, at the time of Luciano Marqués de Murrieta and Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga’s studies at the University of Rioja in the late 1850s, the region had already been heavily influenced by Bordeaux[2].

The Incredible Fall

Two significant factors conspired to slow down Spain’s rapid economic development in the 19th century. The first was the spread of phylloxera. It was first found in Spanish vineyards in the late 1880s and began spreading. By the outbreak of World War I, around a third of Spain’s vines were destroyed. Hence, unprecedented devastation took place between 1888 and 1914. For example, the Priorat region saw its vineyards decline from 5,000 to 600 hectares between 1891 and 1896. Similarly, Navarra lost 99% of its grapes over the same period. The vineyards in these two regions suffered heavy losses[3].

Phylloxera In Spain

Figure 1. The spread of the grape phylloxera plague in Europe, 1868–1920.

By the 1890s, France was starting to recover from phylloxera, and French wine production once again started to surge. Moreover, France aggressively raised its tariffs on Spanish wine in 1892. Consequently, this had an enormous impact on the Spanish wine industry and economy, and a substantial amount of grape land was destroyed[4].

Phylloxera in Spain

Prior to the First World War, globalization directly influenced the environmental and economic effects on grape owners and operators. First, France’s own problems with their vineyards caused a massive growth in the Spanish wine industry. Second, an insect native to the Eastern United States arrived in Europe and caused a massive vineyard epidemic throughout the wine regions of Europe. This caused destruction throughout the Spanish wine industry.

Economic Impact of Phylloxera in Germany

The best solution to stop the spread of phylloxera was to graft European grapevines onto Native American grapevine rootstock. The grapes native to the United States were already resistant to phylloxera. However, the problem with this solution was it meant ripping out older grapevines and replanting vineyards. It was a costly endeavor, especially for many already cash strapped wineries[5].

Impact of the Fall of the French Wine Industry on Spain

Historians consider grape phylloxera a natural experiment; it could be studied how a rapid ecological shock affects economic output in this natural disaster. Throughout the mid to late 19th century, the insect spread across Europe from Southern France, decimating wine-producing regions. Before the insect could spread to other neighboring countries, new vines were already planted to replace the Spanish wines[6].

Phylloxera In Spain

Figure 2. French-produced wine priced in Barcelona, 1870–1914.

The wine business boomed and then collapsed between 1870 and 1900 by the rise and fall in the comparative prices of wine to wheat. Vintners’ trip into the global agricultural crisis of the early 1900s was set in motion by the volatile economic environment, characterized by rising unit costs and a sense of sociopolitical unrest[7].

Case Study: Catalan Viticulture Before and After the Crisis

During and after the phylloxera outbreak, what happened in the Spanish region of Catalonia? Catalonia’s provinces reacted differently to the rapid wine growth in the 1860s and 1880s and the following destruction of vines in Catalonia’s provinces. Two important provinces, Barcelona and Tarragona, did not increase the size of their vineyards much throughout the rapid period of wine growth. Between 1860 and 1885, the grape-growing acreage in these two regions increased 16% and 15%, respectively. After the phylloxera epidemic, they kept about the same amount of land under vine as they had before phylloxera. Compared to 1860, there were 6% more grape-planted hectares in Barcelona in 1935, while in Tarragona, it was less than 1%[8].

Phylloxera In Spain, An Evaluation of Phylloxera’s Impact on Spain

Figure 3. Land under vineyards in the four provinces of Catalonia, 1860–1935 (hectares)

In the other two provinces of Catalonia, Girona and Lleida, things went a little differently. In 1878, the French plague first invaded the bordering Spanish province of Girona. Since the grapevines were dying, there was little time to observe a boom. As a result, they replanted one-third of the 1860 acres of vineyards. To compensate for the decline in French production and exports, the area of Lleida planted with pre-Phylloxera grapes practically doubled. They established most significant number of plantations in this region. Subsequently, fewer than half of the vineyards in Lleida—affected by the phylloxera plague since its emergence in 1860—were replanted using resistant varieties[9].

Phylloxera In Spain, An Evaluation of Phylloxera’s Impact on Spain

Figure 4. Five-year mean wine production in the four provinces in Catalonia in Spain, 1890–1934 (hectoliters of grape juice)

Winemakers in Barcelona’s province primarily helped developed innovative techniques for harvesting new grape varieties. Following the phylloxera pandemic, increased use of chemical fertilizers and manure led to improved grape juice production. Compared to the wine production between 1890 and 1894, the 1930–1934 period had a mean annual increase of 33%, while grapevine hectares increased by 28%[10].

Read: Legacy of Phylloxera

This Day in Wine History

April 27, 1878: The phylloxera outbreak arrived in Spain for the first time. There were three prominent entry points for phylloxera into the Iberian Peninsula: Porto, Malaga, and Gerona[11].

Want to read more? Try these books!

Phylloxera In Spain, An Evaluation of Phylloxera’s Impact on SpainPhylloxera In Spain, An Evaluation of Phylloxera’s Impact on Spain

References

[1] Badia-Miró, Marc, et al. “THE GRAPE PHYLLOXERA PLAGUE as a NATURAL EXPERIMENT: THE UPKEEP of VINEYARDS in CATALONIA (SPAIN), 1858-1935,” Australian Economic History Review 50, no. 1 (March 2010): 39–61

[2] “Measuring Phylloxera’s Impact on the World of Wine,” SevenFifty Daily, January 30, 2018,

[3] Badia-Miró, Marc, et al. “THE GRAPE PHYLLOXERA PLAGUE as a NATURAL EXPERIMENT: THE UPKEEP of VINEYARDS in CATALONIA (SPAIN), 1858-1935,” Australian Economic History Review 50, no. 1 (March 2010): 39–61, https://doi.org/

[4] Stonerod, Paula and Strik, Bernadine. “Hot-Water Dipping Eradicates Phylloxera from Grape Nursery Stock,” HortTechnology 6, no. 4 (October 1996): 381–83

[5] Stonerod, Paula and Strik, Bernadine. “Hot-Water Dipping Eradicates Phylloxera from Grape Nursery Stock,” HortTechnology 6, no. 4 (October 1996): 381–83

[6] Badia-Miró, Marc, et al. “THE GRAPE PHYLLOXERA PLAGUE as a NATURAL EXPERIMENT: THE UPKEEP of VINEYARDS in CATALONIA (SPAIN), 1858-1935,” Australian Economic History Review 50, no. 1 (March 2010): 39–61, https://doi.org/

[7] Stonerod, Paula and Strik, Bernadine. “Hot-Water Dipping Eradicates Phylloxera from Grape Nursery Stock,” HortTechnology 6, no. 4 (October 1996): 381–83, https://doi.org/

[8] Badia-Miró, Mar et al. “THE GRAPE PHYLLOXERA PLAGUE as a NATURAL EXPERIMENT: THE UPKEEP of VINEYARDS in CATALONIA (SPAIN), 1858-1935,” Australian Economic History Review 50, no. 1 (March 2010): 39–61, https://doi.org/

[9] Badia-Miró, Marc, et al. “THE GRAPE PHYLLOXERA PLAGUE as a NATURAL EXPERIMENT: THE UPKEEP of VINEYARDS in CATALONIA (SPAIN), 1858-1935,” Australian Economic History Review 50, no. 1 (March 2010): 39–61, https://doi.org/

[10] Badia-Miró, Marc, et al. “THE GRAPE PHYLLOXERA PLAGUE as a NATURAL EXPERIMENT: THE UPKEEP of VINEYARDS in CATALONIA (SPAIN), 1858-1935,” Australian Economic History Review 50, no. 1 (March 2010): 39–61, https://doi.org/

[11] Stonerod, Paula and Strik, Bernadine. “Hot-Water Dipping Eradicates Phylloxera from Grape Nursery Stock,” HortTechnology 6, no. 4 (October 1996): 381–83, https://doi.org/

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