An aphid typically called phylloxera vitafoliae, somehow managed to travel from the New to the Old World and swept through Europe in the second half of the 19th century. In its trail it left shriveled, fruitless vines on desolate vineyards with confused proprietors in a region of the world that relied heavily upon wine. Wine production in France fell 72% in 14 years and put many small, individually owned vineyards out of business.
In Italy, the first report of phylloxera in Italy was near Lake Como, but the regions struck hardest were Sicily and Calabria. The pest was first noticed in Perugia in 1891, then reached Gubbio by 1899, but did not spread further. It reappeared in 1916 on the shores of Lago Trasimeno and only in 1933 reached Perugia again, as well as Foligno and Montefalco. One reason for the slow spread in Italy was the regional habits of growing grapevines through trees, intermingling crops with other species. This technique is very different than the typical mono-culture method of growing only grapevines in modern vineyards. A second reason might be the higher volcanic minerals in the vineyards of Italy... apparently the pest doesn't do well in volcanic rocky environments.
With the combined work of entomologists, biologists, viticulture societies and governments a solution was found... European varieties could be grafted onto American grape rootstock, which because phylloxera is native to the Americas, was virtually immune to its effects. It's amazing to think that by 1990, about 85 per cent of all the world’s vineyards were grafted onto American root stocks that are resistant to phylloxera.
As devastating as this blight was in the 1800s on the French wine industry, in Italy the pest moved slowly for some reason. In fact, still today there are pockets of vineyards that are seemingly immune to the phylloxera, with some blessed vineyards still producing wine on very old vines. This is the case with the Tenuta San Francesco Winery in Tramonte, on the Amalfi Coast. They are one of the rare vineyards still producing wine from huge vines hundreds of years old from original Tramonte Bianci grapes. Mount Vesuvius' numerous eruptions are responsible for depositing the volcanic rocky soil their vines thrive in.
But for the rest who are susceptible to this pest, underground in their roots is the real hero... An American hero... American grape vine rootstock.
If you liked this post, please take the time to share it on your favorite social media site.... Grazie!