Almost every wine enthusiast has probably heard of the little insect, phylloxera. But few people understand what phylloxera is or how it managed to wipe out almost the entire European viticulture industry. The life cycle of phylloxera, which ranges in size from 0.8 to 1.5 millimeters long, is extremely complex. Simply put, phylloxera feeds first on the leaves of the vines during the reproductive phase and then on the vines’ underground roots. The leaf infestation is not fatal to the plant, but the root damage ensures that the plant will eventually be unable to absorb water and nutrients. As a result, the vine perishes. The louse could never carry out this destructive work in its native North America because native vines there are resistant. They have evolved to be able to close phylloxera puncture sites on their roots with cork tissue before major damage occurs. This explains why phylloxera went unnoticed in North America. Who would have thought that the European grapevine species, Vitis Vinifera lacked this critical defense mechanism?
When enthusiastic botanists in Victorian England gathered samples of American vines in the 1850s, Phylloxera was brought to Europe. The native grape species in North America are at least partially resistant to phylloxera because
In the southern Rhône area of France, the first vines started to mysteriously decay in 1863. Rapid continental spread was experienced by the issue. Only 23.4 million hectolitres of wine were produced in France