The Scourge Of The Phylloxera Louse

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The Phylloxera louse is an extremely small aphid-like insect that feeds on grape roots. Native to the Eastern and Southern United States, the louse devastated vitis vinifera vines in both Europe and the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. It continues to affect vintners to a lesser-extent to this day.

The Phylloxera louse begins its life on the roots of the vine and eats sap. It disposes its waste by injecting it back into the roots. This is deadly to vitis vinifera vines.

Around 1860, Phylloxera was inadvertently introduced to French vines through a general program of vine exchange. Non vitis vinifera vines that were native to the New World had evolved with the pest, and developed immunity.

When these vines were planted in French soil, Phylloxera quickly spread throughout the surrounding regions, eventually reaching vines in Italy and Germany. By the turn of the century, over one half of European vines had been destroyed. Phylloxera also devastated vitis vinifera vineyards in the New World, especially in California.

The Scourge Of The Phylloxera Louse

A solution was found through grafting European vines on to American rootstocks that were resistant to Phylloxera. This technique saved the Old and New World wine industry without having to avoid the substantially higher quality vitis vinifera varietals.

Grafting is a process in which a vitis vinifera vine is fit onto a cut in a Phylloxera resistant rootstock. New world rootstocks have widely varying characteristics and must be matched properly for the varietal, soil, and climate.