Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tiny little buggers

Today I'm going to talk about small things- Babies and aphids.

It seems like babies are falling from the sky in my immediate circle of influence. Congratulations to Jeff and JJ, friends of mine and owners of 33 wine bar- they welcomed their first child into the world on Sunday (which was also their anniversary). Also, a belated congrats to my friends Ashley and Brian (co-founders of Shhhh...), as Ashley is pregnant, and due next summer.

Now on to matters of science. Anyone who knows about my high school course of study knows that I have always been a bit of a biology nerd. That's why I can tell you what the Krebs cycle is in a cell, but can't tell you the difference between a 2-cycle and 4-cycle engine. This naturally leads me to be interested in the science portion of wine. That being said, let me introduce you to one of the enemies of wine, Phylloxera. This nasty, tiny little bugger just about cratered the world of wine in the 1870's. It is a tiny aphid, about 1/13 of an inch long that feeds on the roots of grapevines. Eventually, it sucks all of the necessary things that the vine needs out, and the vine dies. Much like the scourges on the earth that McDonalds and Survivor are, this pest originated in America. In the 1860's, it hitched a ride over to Europe on some vine cuttings (unbeknownst to anyone), and proceeded to decimate the vineyards over there. It literally destroyed the wine industry in France, Italy, and most of Spain. The reason that we didn't know much about it before is that American rootstock wasn't susceptible to this louse. Therein lied the solution. Over the course of the end of the 1800's and beginning of the 1900's, almost all of Europe was replanted on American rootstock, then the grapes they wanted were grafted on. Wineries in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa had to follow suit, as Phylloxera wreaked havoc there as well.

America wasn't totally immune. In the 1980's and 90's, a new form of this bug did damage in California, Washington, and Oregon. The problem was that we had planted a bunch of vines on a rootstock called AxR-1 that had ancestors from Europe. Americans thought that it would be resistant to phylloxera biotype B. They were incorrect. Since then, at a cost of almost $2B, we have replanted the vines here, and carried onward. One interesting side note- one of the only countries that hasn't really dealt much with Phylloxera is Chile. Many think that this is due to the sandy soils, which the louse can't move through.

Today, raise a glass of Glaetzer "Wallace" to our defeat over Phylloxera. This wine is made by a truly talented winemaker in Australia, is a blend of Shiraz and Grenache, and should cost you around $20 retail.


1 comment:

  1. I can't believe you compared Phylloxera to Survivor...McDonalds, I can see, but Survivor? Really? =P

    I've always heard that Missouri vines bailed out Europe. I'm sure there are other states involved, but I guess Missouri's got to take snaps where they can...