Economic Impact of Phylloxera in Germany

Even though war, colonization, and famine stormed multiple regions across the globe during the 19th century, Germany had a period of expanding prosperity after the Napoleonic Wars that ended in 1815. This era of economic success ended with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, which brought Germany into a confrontation with its neighbors.

After fighting for several years and bringing devastation to the continent, the major nations of Europe (Germany, France, England, etc.) and Russia came to a truce in their territorial and political disputes. The New World exploited its raw resources to feed the nation’s expanding machinery of the Industrial Revolution, transforming into a more urban society[1].

Did Standards of Living Bring this Pest?

Lifestyle improvements for the general population, especially in Germany, occurred in the post-war era. People began to drink more wine to celebrate their newfound social status and economic prosperity. Despite this, everything progressed at a breakneck pace.

Advances in German technology reduced the traveling time across the country. Train lines were spread across European continents and facilitated faster transportation of goods and passengers. Ships propelled by steam were not affected by the wind and could travel at record speeds across the continent. The era of globalism was in full swing[2].

The Onset of Phylloxera Bug

The aphid, subsequently recognized as Phylloxera vastatrix, caused historic devastation to vineyards across Europe. The aphid was native to the Mississipi region, and the local vineyard was resistant to it. With the boom of globalization, as soon as the Mississippi Valley aphid was freed from its native home, it wiped out almost all vineyards on the planet. This phenomenon is known as the Mississippi Valley blight. The basis for the modern wine industry that we know today was recreated in the wake of the disaster[3].

In 1866, a farmer in the southern Rhône (French region) reported the death of a grape block between Avignon and Orange. After a few seasons, the leaves in the entire vineyard began to droop and dry out, and the vines also began to die. When it became clear that the disease was spreading, the French government organized an investigation team of three plant experts to investigate the root cause of the disease[4].

It Entered Germany in Desperate Times Through Alsace

After the brief Franco-Prussian War concluded in 1870, the Alsace region was annexed by Germany. The area was on the border of France and suffered the most during the phylloxera outbreak. However, the German response to phylloxera was faster and more intense than the French response. With the epidemic outbreak, Alsacian vintners were forced to cut and burn their vines and leave the area fallow for a few years to minimize aphid reproduction. The German government only permitted the Alsacian vintners to plant hybrids when they were finally allowed to replant. A return to the aristocratic forms of hillside plants would not occur until 1918 when France retook Alsace[5].

Between 1874 and 1900, the Rhine, Moselle, Neckar, and Main River basins in Germany saw a variety of epidemics. Many places have reported these outbreaks but of minor intensity. Due to Germany’s cooler summers, which limit the bug’s reproductive excesses, the country suffered minor damage in production[6].

Germany, Economic Impact of Phylloxera in Germany

Economic Impacts

The long-term impact

Although Germany faced minor damage from the epidemic, the war increased its impact on the German economy. According to one source, phylloxera cost the United States roughly as much as the war indemnity payments by Germany in 1870.

As a result of the German’s strict policy towards the affected vineyards, a third of Germany’s vineyards were destroyed and never rebuilt or planted again. Thousands of farmers were forced to give up their land as the population of metropolitan areas skyrocketed during this era. The wine industry saw a decline in its workers while many people emigrated, intending to start viticulture from scratch in areas free of phylloxera[7].

The Cost of Production

During the phylloxera epidemic, it was observed that the aphid impact was less significant in the cold wine-producing regions. Several vine experts suggested that it was possible to retrain the affected vine from the roots if it was relocated to a cold climate.

Both fields grafting and rebuilding the vineyard in cold places were options for the producer.

Other Impacts

Phylloxera had harmed German winemakers and grape growers because of the limited transit of grapes. In Europe, phylloxera created a shortage of rootstocks for replanting and a lack of understanding about which aphid-resistant rootstocks are best suited to specific soil types. The focus was mainly on educating companies that employ workers and those working as independent contractors on biosecurity practices[8].

Also read: History of Phylloxera in Wine Timeline

Increase of Fraud

The German government destroyed a significant portion of its vineyards to stop the spread of aphids. To meet the market demand, it had to purchase wines from other nations. The import at the time of the epidemic fostered dishonesty to a large degree. Dishonest manufacturers were creating “raisin wine” from dried grapes in Greece and Turkey, as well as “sugar wine” and “Piquette” made by steeping crushed grape skins in water and then fermenting them. In addition, by blending wines from different areas and countries, merchants were selling them at higher prices by claiming that the wine was from a particular estate or a notable growing site to entice potential clients. Even though wine fraud was not a new problem in France, the scale of fraud during the phylloxera outbreak in the German market was unprecedented[9].

This Day in Wine History

May 10, 1871: The day Franco-Prussian War ended. The conflict came to a close mainly due to the lack of wine sales and the depletion of war budget reserves devoted to phylloxera infestation control and research[10].

References

[1] Paul, Harry. 1996. Science, Vine, and Wine in Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Ordish, G. 1972. The Great Wine Blight. New York: Charles Scribner’s and Sons.

[3] Morrow, Jr. Dwight W. 1961. The Phylloxera Story, Ch.I-VI. Unpub. ms. Manuscripts, Shields Library, University of California, Davis. Used with permission.

[4] Paul, Harry. 1996. Science, Vine, and Wine in Modern France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[5] Lichtenstein, Leon and Jules-Émile Planchon. 1870. “On the identity of the two forms of phylloxera.“ Jl. Agric. Practique 34: 181-2.

[6] Lichtenstein, Leon and Jules-Émile Planchon. 1870. “On the identity of the two forms of phylloxera.“ Jl. Agric. Practique 34: 181-2.

[8] Bioletti, Frederic T. 1901. The Phylloxera of the Vine. Bulletin No. 131, Agricultural Experiment Station. Sacramento: State Printing

[9] Bioletti, Frederic T. 1901. The Phylloxera of the Vine. Bulletin No. 131, Agricultural Experiment Station. Sacramento: State Printing

[10] Galet, P. 1979. A Practical Ampelography, trans. and adapted by Lucie T. Morton. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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