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Comment: phylloxera with some reference to Italy   Leave a comment

Phylloxera with some reference to Italy by Max Milihan

(i) The Disaster

An aphid typically called phylloxera vastatrix, the devastator, silently made a voyage 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. For the first years the phylloxera remained a misunderstood scourge and for several years afterward an unstoppable enemy. Wine production in France fell 72% in 14 years and put many small, individually owned vineyards out of business (Oxford Companion to Wine). With the combined work of entomologists, biologists, viticulture societies and governments it was overcome in Europe but remains a threat to vineyards across the world today. According again to the Oxford Companion to Wine, ‘about 85 per cent of all the world’s vineyards were estimated in 1990 to be grafted onto rootstocks presumed to be resistant to phylloxera’.

The phylloxera proved difficult to understand because of its odd life cycles and its adaptable nature. The first stage hatches from eggs laid ‘in the previous autumn at the foot of the vine, where it has passed the winter, a very small insect, which travels underground to the end of the most delicate roots, and there nourishes itself by sucking the sap from the vine’ (Jemina 5). This form injects poison into the roots in order to feed on the sap of the roots and begins a colony, producing thousands of offspring. The poison injected opens a permanent canal for the insect to continually feed on the sap of the roots and prevents them from closing and healing. ‘The Phylloxera on the extremities of the roots produces a special and very characteristic kind of swelling which continues to change, or rather to rot, and the vine no longer able to nourish itself, dies’ (Jemina 7). In addition to the form of the phylloxera that feeds on roots, several other forms of the insect have adapted to serve various purposes, such as laying eggs on the underside of the leaves themselves or flying from one plant to another and reproducing. Their procreation is prodigious; botanists and entomologists estimate that millions of the aphids could be produced in one season. In this manner the tiny insects are able to multiply and consume entire vineyards, moving to the next healthy plant after its victim is depleted (Campbell 74).

Early attempts at wine production in the New World by French emigrants had met with disaster. These entrepreneurs brought with them from France their grape vines of the European vitis vinifera variety which had proven to be very effective at producing wine in the Old World (Oxford Companion to Wine). For reasons unknown to them at the time, their experimental vineyards shriveled and died; climate was assumed to be the cause when, in fact, the tiny phylloxera was most likely the reason for the failures (Oxford Companion to Wine). Grape vines native to the New World were able to flourish but produced flavors and aromas that offended the European palette accustomed to the grapes produced by their own vitis vinifera. ‘Attempts to cultivate the European vines were fruitless … but Yankee character is to persevere and native vines were cultivated with great success’ (Campbell 38). Some areas of the continent were able to successfully cultivate the native vines, such as vitis labrusca, vitis aestivalis, vitis rupestris and vitis riparia, and produce wines acceptable to some Americans and a few Europeans while others, most notably California, cultivated vitis vinifera before the phylloxera made their way across the continent.

During the mid-19th century there existed a strong interest in botany, especially in upper-class Victorian England. During the 1850s and 1860s, an American vine called the Isabella proved to be very popular as ornamental decoration in gardens and was shipped en masse into Europe from the United States (Campbell 25). Grape vines had been transferred for years without harm to the environment but, with the invention of a glass box called the Ward Transportation Case in 1835, which kept plants growing on their journey overseas, the parasites feeding on the vines were able to survive the voyage (Campbell 28). Another theory proposes that steam ships made the ocean crossing faster which allowed the aphids to survive the voyage. ‘If [vines] had been infected with aphids, they would have died by the time the long sea voyage was completed. But steamships carried the plants far more quickly and the railway reduced the time of the inland voyage’ (Campbell 108). These vines were rarely used for wine production but they were cultivated in large gardens with nearby vineyards. In this manner, the phylloxera were innocuously introduced to Europe.

(ii) Identification

Due to the life cycle of the phylloxera and their initially slow but exponential spread, the effects of their presence were not observed for several years. The insect was identified as early as 1863 by an entomologist at Oxford named J.O. Westwood after he received samples of the insect from a London suburb (Oxford Companion to Wine), but its effects on native European vines was still unknown. That same year several vineyards in the Rhone region of France were infected but the cause was not apparent until several years later. One of the first documented devastations of vines was written by a French customs inspector, David de Pénanrun, in 1867 who described ‘something wrong with his vines. Leaves were turning brown and falling early. The affliction seemed to spread outwards in a circle’ (Campbell 45). The same year, a veterinarian, Monsieur Delorme, wrote of ‘a small proprietor at Saint-Martin-de-Crau [noticing] leaves on a number of vines turning rapidly from green to red. Within a month ‘most of the vines were already withered and beginning to dry out’’ (Campbell 46).

The phylloxera were not immediately identified as the culprit because ‘when roots had been dug up on dead and dying vines in Floirac scarcely any phylloxera were found’ (Campbell 101). Their life cycle and feeding cycles allow them to move to healthy plants as infected plants are dying. When they were noticed, some speculated that they were a result of the disease, not the cause, and blamed the vine failures on too much rain. Phylloxera reproduce in large quantities during the summer seasons and their winged form allows them to move from plant to plant which resulted in a very rapid spread through Europe. In the years following the first infestations, many surrounding vineyards rotted and the effects sprung up elsewhere in Europe as well, although the main concentration was in France.

In the years following the first reports of vineyard devastation, vineyard owners and agricultural societies reacted quickly to identify the cause and spare their own harvests. The most historically significant push was the creation of the Commission to Combat the New Vine Malady by the Vaucluse Agricultural Society. This society included landowners, horticulturalists, entomologists and and Jules Émile Planchon, the head of the Department of Botanical Sciences at Montpellier University (Campbell 48). They quickly investigated fields with both living and withered vines where Planchon inspected a slowly dying vine;

A happy pickaxe blow unearthed some roots on which I could see with the naked eye some yellowish spots. A magnifying glass revealed them to be clumps of insects… from this moment, a fact of capital importance was established. It was that an almost invisible insect, shying away underground and multiplying there by myriads of individuals, could bring about the exhaustion of even the strongest vine. (Campbell 50)

Despite this discovery, arguments continued to storm over the true cause of the devastation. ‘The greatly respected Henri Marés … declared it was ‘the severe cold that had continued unbroken last winter that is responsible for the deplorable condition of the vines’ (Campbell 51). The following year Planchon, the entomologist Louis Vialla and Jules Lichtenstein were dispatched by the Agricultural Society of France to continue investigation of the aphid; that summer they received correspondence from the State Entomologist of Missouri, Charles Riley. He wrote that the aphids found by Planchon were in fact the same ones that had been studied in the United States, but that they had not had such a disastrous effect on the vines there (Campbell 68). The scientists had found the cause of the devastation and theorized that it came from America, but no cure was yet in sight. The French Commission on the Phylloxera accepted Planchon’s theories and offered a reward of 20,000 francs to whoever could find a cure for the attacks of the aphid (Campbell 80).

(iii) The Fight Back

A French botanist named Léo Laliman who had both American and European vines in his garden reported to the Agricultural Society of France that the American vines had withstood the phylloxera invasion while the European vines had perished (Campbell 71). He proposed a process called ‘grafting’ vineyards ought to fuse the vines of the European vitis vinifera with the roots of the phylloxera-resistant, vitis varieties from America. This process did not combine the genetics of the two plants but rather formed a compound plant; European vines on American roots. Riley, the State Entomologist of Missouri, confirmed that the phylloxera were not fatal to American vines.

We thus see that no vine, whether native or foreign, is exempt from the attacks of the root-louse. On our native vines however when conditions are normal, the disease seems to remain in a mild state and it is only with foreign kinds and with a few of the natives … that it takes on the more acute form. (Campbell 86)

In her account of the phylloxera infestation Christy Campbell remarks that ‘leaf-galling is not fatal to the vine; nor, on American species, are the root predations. Over millennia of evolution wild vines developed ways to keep the attacker at bay … European vine-roots had and have no such defences’ (Campbell 77).

American resistance had been established but few took note of Laliman’s grafting proposal; grafting was not immediately used as many believed that it would reduce the quality of the grapes produced. Many potential remedies were tested to no avail; Riley remarked that ‘all insecticides are useless’ (Campbell 124). It was not until 1876 that Jean-Henri Fabre reported on his vineyards of ‘grafted Aramons on American varieties’; he said that ‘[the grafted vines] produced no alteration in the quality of taste of the wine nor had any influence on the [resistant] constitution of the roots’ (Campbell 154).That same year Planchon advocated the same thing. ‘While the power of the rootstock directly influences the development of the transplant, the rootstock does not transmit the particular taste which it would have in its own grapes’ (Campbell 160).

Despite rare successes from experimental vineyards grafted onto American rootstock, many still believed that insecticides would be the cure. As such, the French government briefly implemented a ban on the importation of American vines that would prove only to delay the eventual remedy. Lichtenstein, one of the members of the phylloxera investigation, published statements urging the expanded use of grafts. He wrote that ‘the wines of France will live again, reborn on the resistant rootstocks of America’ (Campbell 195).

Campbell describes how ‘slowly, slowly, reconstitution [grafting] took place. When the Beaujolais was officially declared phylloxerated in 1880, the import of alien vines became legal’. According to the French Ministry of Agriculture, about a third of France’s vineyards had been transplanted onto grafted or hybridized vines (Campbell 235).

After twenty years of anguish and effort the vineyards of [southern France] had been put together again. The costs had been great, debts were pressing, but by the mid-1890s the reconstituted vineyards were producing a flood of wine for which there seemed to be no end of thirst. (Campbell 247)

Even into the 1920s there were still un-grafted vineyards surviving on expensive chemical defenses. Today still there are vineyards in Australia, South America, the Middle East and scattered islands that survive on ungrafted vines because of soil conditions or strict controls preventing the movement of phylloxera. But, as noted before, it is estimated that 85% of the world’s vineyards are planted on grafted rootstocks (Oxford Companion to Wine).

(iv) The Battle in Italy

Although the effects of the phylloxera crisis were felt the most in France, it affected much of Western Europe. Professor Battista Grassi estimated that only about 10% of the country’s vines were infected by 1912; ‘the reason for its slow spread was the comparatively isolated nature of Italian vineyards and the habit of growing many vines through trees’ (Ordish 172). The first report of phylloxera in Italy was near Lake Como, but the regions struck hardest were Sicily and Calabria. In a New York Times article published November 8th, 1895 the Italian Consul estimated that lost wages in Sicily in the early 1890s totaled over thirty million dollars (‘Phylloxera Ravages Italy’). Many vineyard owners actually saw the infestation in France as an economic opportunity to export their own wines. In fact, in 1909 five million hectoliters of Italian wine exports to France made up about 10% of the wine consumed by the French (Campbell 249).

As the infestation struck Italy later on and much more slowly, its eradication was much more easily addressed in Italy than in France. Italy, along with many other European countries, enacted a temporary ban on plants that might carry the phylloxera into their vineyards. Vineyards found infected early on were burned at the expense of the state in order to slow the spread (Ordish 173). Although the burning of infected vineyards benefited the Italian wine industry as a whole, there were negative reactions from the owners and workers; in August of 1893 the New York Times reported that ‘the Minister of Agriculture … recently ordered the destruction of vineyards covering a large area in the Province of Novara. The peasants, losing employment through these steps, began to riot. Many were injured in conflicts with the police, and a large number were arrested’ (‘Italian Peasants Rioting’). Once grafting was accepted as a solution the ban on imported vines was lifted in order to supply Italian vineyards with resistant rootstocks subsidized by the government. In fact, another New York Times article published February 2, 1892 indicates that ‘the Italian Minister of Agriculture has for a number of years distributed large quantities of American grape vines among the farmers’ and that ‘from the island of Sicily alone the Minister has received demands for twenty six million rootstocks’ (‘American Vines in Italy’). The government supplied American cuttings and seeds, along with subsidies to farmers planting New World vines (Ordish 173). The Turin Phylloxera Council published their notes from an 1880 meeting, remarking that ‘we, knowing the danger, shall be able in great part to avoid it … Italy having to fight against Phylloxera finds herself in a more favourable position, being abundantly supplied with American vines, which are known to resist the disease’ (Jemina 3). As a result of the later introduction, slower spread and governmental subsidies, Italy’s vineyards were damaged far less than those of France.

‘AMERICAN VINES IN ITALY’ Editorial. New York Times 2 Feb. 1892. The New York Times. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. <;.

Campbell, Christy. Phylloxera: How Wine Was Saved for the World. London: HarperCollins, 2004. Print.

‘Italian Peasants Rioting’ Editorial. New York Times 4 Aug. 1893. The New York Times. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. <;.

Italy. The Turin Phylloxera Council. The Turin Phylloxera Council: Ideas as to the Phylloxera and Rules for Watching the Vineyards. By Jemina. Turin, 1887. John Rylands University Library. Web. 7 Dec. 2010. <;.

Ordish, George. The Great Wine Blight. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987. Print.

‘PHYLLOXERA RAVAGES ITALY’ Editorial. New York Times 08 Nov. 1895. The New York Times. Web. 06 Dec. 2010. <;.

Robinson, Jancis. The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

Posted January 21, 2011 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: Wine harvest c. 1900   Leave a comment

The wine harvest described here took place in ‘a picturesque old mansion’ (once belonging to the Arte della Lana) ‘slightly raised above the plain, and about two miles from the Arno’, ‘opposite Monte Morello’ c. 1900. It would be interesting to identify the building in question. The illustration comes from the same source. SY

In this pleasant and picturesque old mansion were assembled a joyous company, mixed Italian and English, for the vintage of 1874. To the advent of the forestieri was ascribed by the courteous contadini the splendid yield of grapes, better than they had seen for twenty-six years. [Note here in the text: That is to say, since the outbreak of the iodium. To give some idea of the virulence of the disease, the farms on this estate, though two less in number, used to produce at least two thousand barile of wine ; and in this, an exceptional year, the yield was only one thousand one hundred. One year, when the disease was at its height, they had five barile of stuff resembling mud! A barile holds fifty litres.]

On a fine September morning we started, Italian and English, men and women, masters and mistresses, and servants laden with innumerable baskets, big and little, each armed with a rough pair of scissors, and our padrona leading the way, with her guitar, pouring out as she went an endless flow of stornelli, rispetti, and canzoni, in which Tuscany is as rich as in any of the country products, maize or figs, pumpkins or tomatoes, oil or wine, or grain, the Italians amongst us improvising words to the well-known airs.

The vintage is always a happy time; everyone works with a will, and is contented and light-hearted. As Modesto, one of our men, said, ‘Buon vino fa buon sangue’ (Good wine makes good blood).

The old fattore (bailiff), who had retired from all active work on the estate, except the management of his especial pets, the vineyards alla francese (vines cut low in the French fashion, and not allowed to straggle from tree to tree as is the Tuscan usage), was very great on this occasion. He pointed out trees he had planted, and works he had done, fifty years ago, before the padrone was born. The dear old man was now seventy-eight, and as brisk and alert as any of us; with an eye still bright, and his keen, humorous face as full of vivacity as the youngest. He was full of old proverbs and wise sayings, like all peasants of the Casentino, his native region, about twenty miles south-west of Florence; and looked sharply after all our workmen to see that each duly did the picking of his row of vines. He was struck with great admiration at the way in which Englishmen, and women too, worked, and quite concerned for the repeated drenchings in perspiration of a strenuous old gentleman of the party, remarking gravely, ‘Questo povero Signor Antonio! ma suda troppo!’ (‘This poor Mr. Tom, he sweats too much’). He chuckled when we got hot and red under the burning sun, gracefully putting it to the ladies, ‘Il sole di Italia vi ha baciato’ (‘the sun of Italy has kissed you’).

By eleven we were thoroughly tired, and went to rest under the scanty shade of the olives and fig trees with our guitar. One of the young peasants had lost his grandfather in Russia with Napoleon I., and we called him up, and told him to sing about the great general. He sung to a favourite stornello air:

‘Guarda, Napoleon, quello che fai ;

La meglio giovcntu tutta la vuoi,

E le ragazze te le friggerai.’

‘Napoleon, fa le cose giuste,

Falla la coscrizion delle ragazze,

Piglia le belle, e lasciar star le brutte.’

‘Napoleon, te ne pentirai!

La meglio gioventu tutta la vuoi;

Della vecchiaia, che te ne farai.’

‘Napoleon, non ti stimar guerriero

A Mosca lo troveresti l’osso duro,

All’ isola dell’ Elba prigioniero.’

(‘While you go our youths collecting, All our pretty girls neglecting, Pause, Napoleon, and beware. Deal more justly with all classes, Make conscription of the lasses, Leave the plain and choose the fair. Napoleon, if with ruthless hand, Of its flower you mow the land: In old age you’ll pay it dear. Boast not, tyrant, of your glory, Moscow’s plains were grim and gory, Elba was a prison drear.’)

Twelve o’clock brought a welcome arrival – lunch from the villa. Grape-picking is a capital sharpener of the appetite. We were soon reclining – sub tegmine fagi – round a steaming dish of risotto con funghi, and a knightly sirloin of roast beef, which would have done honour to old England. A big fiasco (a large bottle bound round with reeds or straw, and holding three ordinary bottles) of last year’s red wine was soon emptied, well tempered, I should say, with water from the neighbouring well. At a little distance the labourers in the vineyard were enjoying the unwonted luxury of a big wooden bowl full of white beans crowned with polpette, little sausages of minced meat and rice.

We first gathered all the white grapes. These were transferred from our small baskets to big ones, placed at the end of each row of vines. These bigger baskets were then carried on men’s backs to the villa, where the grapes were laid out to dry in one of the towers, on stoje, great trays made of canes. Here they are exposed to sun and air for some weeks, when they are used for making the vin’ santo. After the white grapes were gathered, we fell to on the black, of the choice kinds, the San Giovese, the Aleatico, the Colorino, and the Occhio di Pernice.

These also were destined to be exposed on stoie in the same manner. They are used as governo, that is to say, when the new wine is racked for the first time these choice black grapes are put in, so as to cause another fermentation, they at once deepen the colour of the wine and make it clear.

How melancholy the vines looked stripped of their grapes! The glorious white and golden, and pink and deep red bunches had given a beauty to the landscape which one did not realise until they were gone, and the poor vines stood bare.

In our discussions about the progress of our work, the time of day often came in question. The old fattore was very anxious to know how we in England knew the hour, as he had heard that our churches did not ring the Ave Maria at midday or in the evening. He had, doubtless, a settled conviction that we were little better than heathens, but was too polite to say so. We explained that we had abundance of both big clocks and little watches; but he answered, ‘Ma che’  (with a horizontal wave of the hand), ‘I have a watch too. I set it by the Ave Maria and hardly ever use it. At midday, when the Ave Maria rings, we know we are to eat; and when we hear it at sundown, twenty-four o’clock, as we say here, we leave off work; and at one o’clock of night (an hour after sunset) it rings again so that we may remember our dead and say an Ave for them.’ All our arguments to prove that clocks and watches might be good substitutes for the Ave Maria were useless, and he remained stanch to his idea that England must be a wretched place without the Ave Maria ‘Si deve star male in Inghilterra senza Ave Maria.’

At last the beautiful great white oxen, with their large, soft, black eyes, tassels of red and yellow worsted dangling about the roots of their horns and over their cool moist noses, came to the edge of the vineyard drawing a large vat (tino) fixed on the cart. Into this all the remaining grapes were thrown. A handsome lad of sixteen, after tucking up his trousers and washing his feet in a bucket of water drawn from the well close by, jumped atop of the vat and lustily stamped down the contents, singing as he plied his purple-stained feet: ‘Bella bellina, chi vi ha fatto gli occhi? Che ve gli ha fatti tanto innamorati? Da letto levereste gli ammalati, Di sotto terra levereste i morti. Tanto valore e tanta valoranza! Vostri begli occhi son la mia speranza.’ (‘My lovely charmer, who hath made thine eyes, That fill our bosoms with such ecstasies? Their glance would draw the sick man from his bed, Or haply pierce the tomb and raise the dead. Oh! my sweet love, thy beauty and thy worth, Are all my hope and all my joy on earth.’)

Of such tender sentiment and musical sound are the songs of the Tuscan ‘roughs’. These songs are most of them the composition, both words and airs, of the peasants and artisans who sing them. The hills round Pistoia and the streets of Florence ring with an ever-renewed outpour of such sweet and simple song.

The padrone prides himself much on his fine breed of oxen, and told us the old Tuscan proverb, ‘Chi ha carro e buoi,fa bene i fatti suoi’ (‘Whoso has cart and oxen does good business’).

When the last load of grapes was carted off we returned to the villa, where we found all hands busy in the great courtyard of the fattoria on one side of the villa, emptying the grapes and must out of the vats with wooden bigoncie, high wooden pails without handles. These are carried on men’s shoulders, and their contents poured into immense vats (tino) ranged all round the courtyard under covered arcades. In our wine-shed (tinaia) there are about fifty of these, containing from five to fifty butts each, besides three large square reservoirs of stone each holding three hundred barrels. The bubbling and boiling of the fermenting wine fills the air, and the smell is almost strong enough to get drunk upon. The men often do get tipsy, if they remain too long treading the grapes, or drawing off the new wine.

But here it is an article of faith that the perfume of the must is the best medicine, and people bring weakly children to tread the grapes and remain in the tinaia to breathe the fume-laden air and eat of the fresh fruit; for at vintage-time no peasant or padrone refuses grapes to anyone who asks. They say that il buon Dio has given them plenty, and why should they in their turn not give to those who have nothing?

I suppose this universal readiness to give is one reason why there is so little stealing here. You see vines full of fruit close to the roads, and quite unprotected by any sort of fence, and yet no one of the country-side ever takes them. There are, it is true, certain malfamati villages, whose inhabitants have the reputation of thieves, and against these, and pilferers from the large towns, the vineyards are guarded by men armed with guns, with which they keep popping the night through. At times you see twenty or thirty poor people standing quietly looking on, until called up to receive their dole of grapes, with which they go away happy, with their graceful ‘Dio ve ne renda merito’. At home they will mix water with the must they squeeze out of their basket or apronful of such ungrudged gifts, and make mezzo vino, or acquavello (water and wine fermented together), for the winter.

The same thing is done on a large scale at many fattorie. This mixture of wine and water is distributed to the poor in winter, and is the common drink of the workmen about the villa. After the first good wine is drawn off from the vats, the vinaccia (skins, grape-stones, and stalks) is put into the press, and the second wine pressed out. This is good, but considerably rougher, from the larger amount of tannin, due to the skins and stalks, than that which is drawn off from the vats after fermentation without any agency of the press. After passing through the press, the clots of vinaccia are again put into the vats, and water is poured upon them. In eight or ten days a fresh fermentation takes place, and the vinaccia is once more pressed in the wine-press. This gives mezzo vino, or acquarello (half-wine), not at all bad, but of course of insufficient body to keep through the summer. For this there is no want of demand at the villa. Besides the rations of the workpeople, there are the poveri del buon Dio.

In Tuscany there are no almshouses or poorhouses, save in the chief towns. Most villas have one or two days in the week when alms are distributed to all who come and ask. Here the gathering of poor occurs every Monday and Thursday, at ten in the morning. A hunch of bread, a glass of half-wine, and five centimes are doled out to every applicant, and on Christmas Day anyone who brings a fiasco has it filled with mezzo-vino, and gets half a loaf of bread and a half a pound of uncooked meat. Such has been the custom, I am told, for many hundred years.

Our happy holiday vintaging lasted for five days, and then we went to help the vintaging of one of the contadini of the padrone, a family that had been on the estate for two hundred and eighty years. All their vines were trained Tuscan fashion on maples, and we had the help of ladders and steps to gather the grapes. Half the grapes, and indeed half of all the produce of the land – grain, pumpkins, flax, fruit, or wine – belongs to the padrone, who pays all the taxes and buys the cattle. The contadino pays no rent for his house, which the padrone keeps in repair. The peasant gives the labour, and the master finds the capital. This is, in rough outline, the system of mezzeria, or half-and-half tenure, still universal in Tuscany. Like all human things, it has two sides, and may be condemned as the most backward, or defended as the most patriarchal and wholesome of systems, binding landlord and tenant in the bond of an obviously common interest, and encouraging the closest and most familiar relations between the two. When the landlord is intelligent, active, and judicious, he may become a centre of enlightenment and improvement to his tenantry; but all his attempts must be made with the most cautious discretion, or he will infallibly frighten, and perhaps alienate, his tenantry, who are thorough Conservatives, and love stare super antiques vias. Thus the best commentary on the Georgics is still agriculture in action in Tuscany, a passing peep into one of whose most pleasing chapters has been attempted in this paper.

Posted January 8, 2011 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Source: Turin Phylloxera Council   Leave a comment

The following text ‘The Turin phylloxera council: ideas as to the phylloxera and rules for watching the vineyards‘ by the council secretary, ‘Professor Jemina’ was translated into English by Her Majesty’s Government in 1887. It gives us a glimpse of the first phylloxera crisis in Italy. SY

An important branch of the produce of the nation, the cultivation of the vine, has been seriously and continually threatened from the moment when the Phylloxera appeared in Italy. We have now in our midst the enemy of the vine who before was at our doors, and although warned by authorities on the subject to hold ourselves in readiness for so sinister a visit, yet the fear when once awakened is not slight. Happily, however, our present position is much more favourable than was that of France, for that nation remained in ignorance of the gravity of the danger from 1863, the year in which the damage due to the Phylloxera became apparent in the department of the Gard, until 1868, when the illustrious Planchon discovered the evil and studied the characteristics of the destructive insect. During this period the cultivation of the French vine continued, and the evil spread with rapid strides. But we, knowing the danger, shall be able in great part to avoid it. Moreover, France had not ready at hand powerful antidotes such as are now known, and later on she awoke to the necessity of destroying the original centres of infection. To this must be added the facts that much of our vine cultivation is considerably more scattered than in France, and that Italy having to fight against Phylloxera finds herself in a more favourable position, being abundantly supplied with American vines, which arc known to resist the disease. The Italian Government proceeded at once with the most efficacious means that science and the practical experience of neighbouring countries could suggest, and as far as lay in its power, to destroy the original centres of infection in various parts as they became apparent, and it will proceed, we hope, in the same way to destroy other centres as they continue to become apparent; and so, inch by inch, the ground will be contested with the destroying insect, and our vine culture will be for several years safe from the terrible scourge, giving us time to prepare ourselves for the greater damages against which we may have to bear up in the future, and saving from serious and unlooked for financial confusion those districts in which the vine is the principal, and in some of them the single resource. To effect this the Government alone will not suffice – the assistance of private cultivators is required; each ought to watch his own vineyards, and be able to discover at once doubtful cases of an invasion of Phylloxera, and then to continue a careful inspection. To the cultivators of the vine in the associated provinces we therefore offer these short practical instructions, forming a summary of the gist of information which they ought not to ignore.

What is known of the Insect; its different stages and ways of multiplying itself. The Phylloxera or vine louse is a small insect similar to the grubs which live on the tender buds of the rose, the peach, &c., and like them nourishes itself by means of a sucker, which it attaches to the vegetable tissue, and thus absorbs the nourishing juice of the plant. It was introduced into Europe from North America, where it lives upon the vines of that country, which, owing to the structure of their roots, offer a greater or less degree of resistance to the enemy. The Phylloxera can live on the leaves of the American vine, and produces nut-galls, and then it takes the name of ‘galli-cola’; ‘but on the European or home-grown vines it lives generally on the roots, which it damages or alters in a peculiar way, and then it goes by the name of Phylloxera ‘radicicola’. Let us then give our special attention to the Phylloxera which lives upon the roots, that being the form of the disease which is of the greatest interest to us, inasmuch as it is that which injures our vines. (1) In the spring there issues from an egg, deposited in the previous autumn at the foot of the vine, where it has passed the winter, a very small insect, which travels underground to the end of the most delicate roots, and there nourishes itself by sucking the sap from the vine. It increases in size, changing its skin three or four times (in the same way as the silk-worm during its periods of sleep), and develops into a female without wings, able when full grown to deposit eggs of her own free will. The eggs, a few days after being deposited, open, and the young are born, forming small colonies round the mothers. The young nourish themselves, grow, change their skins, and become, in their turn, so many adult females, able to deposit new fecund eggs. Each female can, between the spring and the autumn, produce from 8 to 10 families in succession, each consisting of from 30 to 40 eggs, so that from a single egg, supposing that all the insects born should continue to live, there would be at the end of the year a production of several thousands of millions. (2) Some of the females above-mentioned pass in the month of July or August into the chrysalis state (like the silk-worm when in the cocoon), and after some time they change their skins, issue from the earth with wings, and aided by the wind, they fly to a greater or less distance, and deposit four or six eggs on the under-side of the leaves of the vines. (3) Some of these eggs are of a larger size, and become female insects without wings; others are smaller and become males without wings, hatching in a few days. Insects of this breed, a sex distinct by itself, do not feed upon the vine, but are destined for breeding only. The male dies after a short time. The female deposits a single egg on the stem of the vine underneath the bark, and afterwards dies too. It is from this egg which passes through the winter, and is not hatched until the following spring, that our biology of the insect begins. (4) ‘We have said that of the females found on the roots all do not develop wings; some in fact at the end of the autumn cease to nourish themselves, retire from active life, pass the winter motionless on the roots, and are said to be ‘hibernating’. On the arrival of spring they take a new lease of life, and continue the process of development. For the sake of brevity let us cease to point out further distinctions not required for the object which these short instructions have in view.

Damage done to the vines by the ‘root’ Phylloxera (radicicola), and how it extends. The Phylloxera on the extremities of the roots produces a special and very characteristic kind of swelling which continues to change, or rather to rot, and the vine no longer able to nourish itself, dies. During the first year the Phylloxera is generally found on the most slender roots; afterwards it is found on the ramifications of the roots next in slenderness, and also on the thickest, and on that part of the stem which is under the soil, and it remains there until the vine dies. The Phylloxera then leaves it, crossing the cracks in the soil by itself, and proceeds to other neighbouring vines, where it finds new nourishment, and thus it is that the evil is spread ‘by diffusion’: it spread as a spot of oil upon paper, and is called the Phylloxera ‘spot’. Then, meanwhile, the vines which are, as it were, in the centre of the spot sicken, sprout less, remain stunted, and in the vineyard have a depressed and drooping appearance. This becomes more apparent when the stems of the vines are near each other. But the disease may be spread to a distance by means of  dissemination,” creating new centres of infection, either by means of the flying insect, or through the agency of man himself, who carries the Phylloxera which lives on the roots, from one place to another to great distances, on plants or some other object coming from an infected vineyard.

How the presence of the Phylloxera can be detected in a vineyard. During the first year of the disease the vine gives few or no signs of deterioration; but when the roots are laid bare distinct swellings or knottings are discernible at the extremities of the most minute of the roots, swellings so characteristic of the disease as to be recognizable by a peasant himself when once seen. During the second year, if the vine is strong, it makes an effort to put forth new roots, tender or capillary, but as soon as the Phylloxera gets upon these, death is inevitable, and the vine gives external signs of dying away either in the spring or in the summer. In the third or fourth year the vine generally dies. In the second or third year the ‘spot’ begins to be apparent in the vineyard if the vines are a slight distance apart, and the drooping or ‘Phylloxera depression’ which we pointed out above, in other words the dying away and the disease of the vines, proceeds in the direction of the lines if these are some distance apart. These facts, however, are influenced by the climate, by the nature of the soil, and by the strength of the vines, as, for example, in the neighbourhood of Pallanza the deterioration of the infected vines was but little apparent, owing to the relatively greater power of resistance possessed by the Isabella vines cultivated there, as compared with the European vine cultivated elsewhere.

To resume, we have:

External characteristics.

Backwardness in sprouting.

Leaves of a yellowish colour, and of a size below the average.

Budding stage of less than average duration.

Grape matured with difficulty.

It is worthy of remark, however, that similar symptoms are sometimes due to other diseases produced by cryptogamy, but with careful inspection these are easily to be distinguished. Nevertheless the presence of other diseases does not exclude the possibility of the existence of Phylloxera. Less easy of detection is the winter egg on the stem under the bark, and the eggs deposited in the autumn by the winged Phylloxera on the underside of the leaves.

Characteristics of the roots. The characteristics of the roots are much more important and easy to recognise.

(a). A swelling of the slender roots, the capillary, especially during the first year of the disease. During the first formation they are of a yellowish orange colour, but afterwards they grow black, and then rot towards the end of autumn, and become loss apparent.

(b). The ‘root’ Phylloxera resembles fine grains of yellow sand, visible to the naked eye of an expert, but more so with a lens. As winter approaches the ‘root’ Phylloxera passes to the ‘hibernating’ stage, grows darker in colour, and consequently becomes less apparent. They are no longer found on the roots near the surface, but penetrate deeper into the soil to escape from the cold. It is hardly necessary to add that the Phylloxera is not found on dead vines, since they would find there no nourishment, and they are rarely found on those that are dying away.

Steps to be taken by the cultivator of vines to avoid the introduction of the Phylloxera into his vineyards. To take no plant, no matter what, which comes from a place infected or under suspicion, a thing moreover prohibited by law. To confine himself to increasing the number of the local vines.

How to discover the presence or suspicions signs of the Phylloxera. Inspect, here and there, in different parts of the vineyards the roots of some of the plants, with a view to acquiring a thorough knowledge of the construction of the sound roots in their normal condition, and the power of distinguishing them as occasion requires from those which show the swelling characteristic of the Phylloxera. It will be sufficient, in order that the lower parts of the roots of the vines may not be injured by the inspection, to examine them with a hoe, at one side at the feet until the first crowns of the roots are reached; this during the summer, but during the autumn and the winter the examination must be carried deeper below the surface. The following must especially be visited: Vines that are dying away or sickening, or that are in the neighbourhood of vines that are dying away, vines that are purchased away from the estate, and vines in gardens where ornamental vegetation exists. In cases of suspected Phylloxera the local authorities should be at once informed, and specimens of the roots under suspicion, both of the slender and of the thicker kinds, should be gathered from different vines. These roots should be placed in a tin box with a closely fitting lid, and a ticket should be attached to the box giving the names of the locality and of the proprietor of the vineyard. When reasonable suspicion of Phylloxera exists, the authorities will provide for the examination of the roots, and will have the vineyards inspected by the persons appointed for the purpose.

This short pamphlet, in which we proposed to set forth the essential points which the practical cultivator of the vine ought to know, has no other object than to inspire the reader with a desire to make himself better acquainted with a subject of such great importance. Among the many publications worth consulting, we especially recommend the official report of the Ministry of Agriculture, No. 11, ‘Information and Directions as regards the diseases of the vine louse and of the Phylloxera.’ In this little work are reproduced two woodcuts showing 1. The Phylloxera in the egg, lava, chrysalis and winged insect stages. 2. The leaves of the American vine with the nut-galls. 3. The Phylloxera on the vine roots. 4. The various characteristic swellings of the capillary roots. These woodcuts are owed to the courtesy of Signor Franceschini, the Government Phylloxera Commissioner for the province of Milan, and already form a part of his work on the Phylloxera.

Posted December 16, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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Comment: Ordish on phylloxera in Italy   Leave a comment

The spread of phylloxera – the vine-destroying American aphid – through Italy in the late nineteenth century has often been described in print but only rarely in English. The following is the most extensive passage in that language known to this author and comes from George Ordish’s The Great Wine Blight (Sidgwick and Jackson 1987), 172-175.

‘Though the phylloxera was probably present in Italy in 1870 it does not appear to have been recognised until 1875 or to have become at all general until 1879, when it was found at Lecco and Agrate, Milan Province. The reason for its slow spread was the comparatively isolated nature of Italian vineyards and the habit of growing many vines through trees on long extension shoots. Such plants tend to have deep roots in firmly pressed ground. There is thus no opportunity for the aphids to enter through cracks in the soil and attack the roots.

At first the Italians saw the phylloxera in France as a great opportunity for them. ‘L’Italian può diventare la prima cantina d’Europa’. Sempé found their statistics difficult. He says:  ‘…they are no shining example of fixity and permit all sorts of conclusions to be drawn from them, allowing the viticultural papers on the others side of the Alps great opportunities to make some very strange calculations.’ And later he refers to their bizarreries and the contradictions in them.

The usual course was followed, it being realized finally that American roots were the answer. At first it left the provision of the new plants to private enterprise and to some wine-growers’ organisations, but later some government control became essential (Royal Decree of 4th March 1888 (3rd series), unifying the decrees of 24th May 1874) to overcome the ignorance and fraud prevalent at that time.

Vignerons were in great haste to ‘reconstitute’ their vineyards and the ‘wood-merchants’ prospered, ‘for the wretched purchaser is not in a position to complain very much until two or three years have passed, if he has been supplied with fraudulent or unsuitable material. Many a bundle of ‘first-class American wood’’ in passing from hand to hand changed its variety as many times, now being 420A, now 3309, now 41B, according to local preference’. The State encouraged viticultural associations  (consorzi) which were easily formed in the north, if they did not already exist, but had to be pushed in the south, and came to exercise more and more control over the sale of rootstocks.

Trained teams were sent out to destroy foci and frequently met with considerable resistance, as in the Côte d’Or, France. The Government bore half the cost of these measures, mostly abandoned during the First World War, which gave the pest a chance to spread. At the end of the war the appalling results of some of the early ‘reconstitution’ plantings were but too obvious, and energetic steps were taken to regularize the nursery business (Law No. 1363, 26 September 1920). A feature of the earlier campaign was the establishment of a nursery on the island of Monte-Cristo where half a million genuine American plants, true to name and free from phylloxera, were raised and distributed free throughout Tuscany. The Government distributed free cuttings of Americans, particularly York-Madeira, and 120 k. of American vine seed and gave subsidies to growers who would establish vineyards with this material.

The Italians produced a number of distinguished phylloxera specialists, such as the famous Professor Battista Grassi, who published an exhaustive study of the genus (thus including other species of Phylloxera, such as quercus) in 1912. Even at this late date the infestation was not large. Grassi estimated that out of 4.5 million ha. of vines in Italy just under 4 million were still unattacked. But he also points out that this is no reason for complacency. The member of the Chamber of Deputies who maintained that there was no need to worry about or to vote funds for phylloxera defence because France had been attacked and had overcome the pest by means of American vines, said Grassi, forgot to mention the trifling fact that it cost their neighbour11 million thousand francs! One did not have to be a prophet, or the son of a prophet, to predict that if steps were not taken the phylloxera would not stop until it had destroyed every vinifera in Europe.

In addition to being a great scientist Grassi was a remarkably practical man with an ability to put across his ideas in striking terms. He laid down a successful Italian policy. In 1908 he pointed out that the country did not have the money to destroy the phylloxera; no minister dared ask for the sums needed, which would be at least 100 million lire a year, when the total vote was but 1.5 million, the same sum now with 600,000 ha. attacked as when there were 60. Here he quoted an old saying: ‘The cake is always the same size and all we get is smaller slices of it.’ Even the great German ‘success’ in Alsace, where they spent a million marks in destruction of foci was all talk. A recent inspection showed Alsace to be infected in spit of the million spent. It was too late to destroy foci one by one because that would not stop the pest spreading. What was needed for people to know the pest and to delay its attack whilst reconstituting on American roots. The pest was spread by rooted cuttings and plants and never by bare cuttings. The legislation prohibiting  the movement of all vines should be repealed and applied only to plants and roots. By allowing the innocuous cuttings to move freely one would avoid the temptation at present existing of smuggling roots around the country and thus spreading the pest. Grassi’s hearers were not to think that he was advocating a ‘free phyloxera in a free Italy’ (a reference to Cavour’s slogan, ‘a free state in a free Italy’) but just common sense. His policy was adopted in essence and, as noted above, considerable control was exercised over nurseries.’


Posted December 14, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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