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Definition: Phylloxera is a nearly microscopic root insect, similar to an aphid, that primarily attacks the roots of Vitis vinifera grape vines, in much the same way an aphid attacks a tomato plant's stems and leaves, by puncturing the vessels and sucking out the plant's sap. Once infested with the Phylloxera louse, the grape vine's root system can become severly impaired, making it difficult for the plant to absorb the needed water and nutrients to sustain a vine. The final Phylloxera outcome depends somewhat on the type of soil structure that the vine is growing in. Clay soil and the vine is likely toast; sandy soil and the vine stands a chance of surviving the phylloxera invasion, because of decent drainage and an unwelcoming environment for the phylloxera bug to thrive.

Phylloxera's Story

During the mid to late 1800s, Phylloxera infestation became an epidemic throughout France and most of Europe, destroying over two-thirds of the continent's vines. Panic set in and solutions were sought far and wide. After significant investigation, it was determined that the Phylloxera louse came from the U.S., though the native American vines were resistant to the bug's attack. It was this resistance that would eventually be harnessed to provide a viable solution to Europe's Phylloxera woes. Researchers discovered that by grafting a European vine onto American rootstock, they could keep the Phylloxera louse from feeding on the vine's root structure, while maintaining the original vine's fruit character and quality. This discovery led producers to undertake the enormous task of ripping out entire vineyards and replacing them with grafted vines. Though the Phylloxera epidemic was devastating on many fronts, the silver lining of a marked increase in fruit quality came about as vintners were forced to choose their top vines to graft onto the surrogate root systems.

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