Great French Wine Blight (Phylloxera epidemic)

Phylloxera epidemic


In the late 19th century there was a major epidemic in most of the vineyards in Europe known as the Phylloxera epidemic. To further explain this epidemic we must first look at what the phylloxera is.


Originally native to North America this pest is microscopic, yellow sap sucking pests that feed on roots and leaves like plant lice. The deformations of roots from the pest can cause secondary infections killing the vine.


The phylloxera epidemic was the cause of botanists in Victorian England collected specimens of American vines in 1850 and devastated many vineyards across France and Britain. In 1863 the effects of the pest were apparent and the problem spread like wildfire throughout the continent.


One desperate measure of wine producers to come up with various cures for the epidemic was burying live toads under each vine to suck out the poison which was unsuccessful. One of the only remedies was grafting cuttings onto resistant rootstocks and hybridization.

Developed by Charles Valentine Riley involved grafting American resistant species with affected roots. France was devastated and most of Europe saw a significant loss in wine production. Attempts to destroy the pest have been unsuccessful and are still a problem with some root stock.

Resistance to Phylloxera

Some soils were not affected by the phylloxera which includes soils composed of sand and schist. Due to this epidemic hybridization became a popular way to combat the species.

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