Fortunately, this is a historic headline. It was the lurid title of newspapers all over the world in the late 19th century. The botanists of Kew Gardens in London have quite a lot to answer for. They went across to America and brought back cuttings of American vines for the plant collections of Victorian England & inadvertently brought back a nasty “Aphid-Like” creature called Phyloxera for which, even today, there is no cure. The same English botanists then took their newly imported disease to France, possibly on earth attached to their un-cleaned tools. It turned out that the American vines had spent millennia building resistance to the disease, but the European vines, who had never come across it, had no resistance. Within a few short years the aphid had spread across Europe & wine production dwindled. Estimates put the destruction at between 70-90% of all the vineyards of France. This would have been a Euro crisis on a huge scale. Can you imagine the French without their daily fortification of wine? Not happy bunnies. I can imagine the English weren’t too popular either. There was an immediate burst of frenetic activity & research to try to find a cure. The first avenue was to try & breed a resistant vine. This proved possible, but the resultant grapes were, to coin a Scottish phrase, boggin’. This is true today, to the extent that these “Hybrid” vines are outlawed in the EU for wine production. Various other “cures” were attempted, including injecting mercury in the soil as a poison (never a great idea) to burying live poisonous toads under the vines (poor toads). Neither of these, or any of the other methods, were successful. “Now hold on”, I hear you say, “if there is no cure, how come we still have wine? I’m not talking about the hype surrounding a minor Prosecco shortage, I’m talking about any wine at all!”
The answer came by grafting European vines onto American roots ( Charles Valentine Riley in collaboration with Planchon and Munson). “Grafting” means chopping the roots off your vine in a nursery & literally “sticking” a resistant (American) vine’s roots onto your top half. You wait until it heals & then you plant out the new baby in your vineyards. This is the preferred method today because the rootstock does not interfere with the flavour of the wine grapes. Hence the wine tastes of whatever your original top plant was, ie Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc etc. not what was stuck on the bottom. This means that almost all vines that you see in France, & indeed all over the world, are top half French & bottom half American as a result of the English spreading a disease. A weird international co-operation indeed. The phylloxera, a true gourmet, finds out the best vineyards and attaches itself to

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