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Dying on the Vine; George Gale (2011)

george-gale-dying-on-the-vineSubtitled ‘How Phylloxera Transformed Wine’
Published by UCP.
Buy from Amazon (eBook also available).

If you want a novelette, a ripping who-dunnit of a phylloxera story, then perhaps this is not a volume to consider – you should go for this one.

Here is a book written by a Professor of Philosophy but it seemed a little ‘dry’ in the opening pages as author, George Gale, recounted the differences between two philosophical schools of thought that considered whether phylloxera was the cause of thousands of vines dying, or whether the bug was simply a symptom of some other malady. Important enough stuff, as it delayed the focused search for a solution for years – but as mentioned a little dry. Thereafter I was hooked – full of detail and reference – it’s a great book! What brings ‘added value’ to this narrative is that once the author is done with France, he turns his attention to the march of the bug through other countries too – not just through the ‘old world’ of wine production, but the ‘New World’ too – with just one rather glaring omission – New Zealand. I suppose I’ll have to add a few notes on that myself when I finally publish a few notes on my February trip!

A little detail
  • 250 full pages, but also rather large appendices that cover the life-cycle of phylloxera, a discussion of the ‘wild’ American grape species that became part of the phylloxera story, and about 25 pages of notes with links to further reading and finally a glossary of terms. Following, just a few interesting snippets
  • Introduction: Page 10:

    And finally, traditional viticultural practices underwent massive changes as vignerons had to learn how to plant, manage, and, most importantly, protect by spraying the new grafted-type vines, thereby developing what came to be called the “new viticulture.”

  • Page 15:

    “phylloxera did not appear everywhere at once, and its impact was variable in time and space” (Pouget, 1990, 50). For example, even by the mid-1870s in the Hérault, the most extensively planted department, “some communes possessed not a single producing vine, while others, often quite nearby, registered a record harvest” (Pouget, 1990, 50).

  • Page 15:

    In 1870, eight million people in France lived directly off the vine (Millardet 1877, 82); 17 percent of the French workforce was involved in wine production, which amounted to 25% of the farm economy.

  • Page 42:

    When, in the early 1880s, the phylloxera threat began to lessen, the committees were perfectly placed as the next threat from America – black rot – exploded on the scene.

  • Page 126:

    One well-accepted estimate has the reconstitution costing France more than the Franco-Prussian War (Convert, 1900, 337).

  • Page 242:

    The only soils exempt from phylloxera were pure sands; every other imaginable soil type, everywhere in Europe, eventually succumbed to the invading bug. And with it went all the vines as well.

All this reminds me that I still haven’t picked up a copy of “The Great Wine Blight” by George Ordish. Eventually I suppose it will happen…

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