The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World

The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World

by Christy Campbell
     
 

In the mid-1860s, grapevines in southeastern France inexplicably began to wither and die. Jules-Émile Planchon, a botanist from Montpellier, was sent out to investigate. He discovered that the vine roots were covered in microscopic yellow insects. What they were—and where they had come from—was a mystery. The infestation advanced with the

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Overview

In the mid-1860s, grapevines in southeastern France inexplicably began to wither and die. Jules-Émile Planchon, a botanist from Montpellier, was sent out to investigate. He discovered that the vine roots were covered in microscopic yellow insects. What they were—and where they had come from—was a mystery. The infestation advanced with the relentlessness of an invading army. Within a few years the plague had spread across Europe; even California's old-world vines succumbed to the aphid's assault. The wine industry was on the brink of disaster. Planchon believed he had the answer and set out to convince the skeptical wine-making and scientific establishments. It was a mission that would take decades.

Gripping and intoxicating, The Botanist and the Vintner brings to life one of the most significant, though little-known, events in the history of wine.

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
“A true-life detective story ripe for the writing.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Ecology, politics, and free-market economics collide in this brisk and surprisingly modern tale of scientific sleuthing.”
San Antonio Express-News
“An engrossing read. And certainly it is information every wine lover should know, making it perhaps the wine book of the year to absorb and consider.”
The New York Times
“A taut, suspense-filled account.”
Wine Spectator
“A must-read.”
From the Publisher
“Ecology, politics, and free-market economics collide in this brisk and surprisingly modern tale of scientific sleuthing.”
Publishers Weekly
In 1864, France's wine industry was in mid-boom and on the verge of facing a modern crisis: an ecological disaster brought on by global trade. Samples of American grapevines carried Phylloxera vastatrix, a tiny aphid to which they were resistant, to France, whose vineyards were devastated by it. In this detailed, well-researched book, British journalist Campbell weaves the social and ecological strands of the upheaval together: its nearly unnoticeable beginnings, when vines in a single vineyard in the south of France began losing leaves in midsummer; the devastation of millions of acres of vineyards and with them the livelihood of small farmers; the search for the cause, full of mistakes and dead ends; the search for the cure, equally flub-filled and as often driven by superstition as empiricism; and, finally, the transatlantic solution. Even the taste of French wine was in danger, because the sturdy American vines produced appalling wine. Portraits of the researchers who carried the day, colorful quotes and occasional cliffhangers produce a story lively enough for amateur wine lovers and armchair historians. It's also a good summary for wine makers and enologists, with a clear discussion of the elaborate life cycle of the aphid, a fascinating look at the pride and prejudice that drove French wine makers and brief coverage of the Phylloxera crisis in California during the 1990s. Illus. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Gripping account of a 19th-century plague that nearly wiped out the world's wine production. It's a tale straight out of Hollywood, a 1950s horror film complete with a stealthy yet hideous alien invader and a stubbornly ignorant public. From these elements, British journalist Campbell (Fenian Fire: The British Government Plot to Assassinate Queen Victoria, 2004, etc.) spins a vinous tale to make the blood run cold. About 150 years ago, a microscopic marauder hitched a ride on a botanic cutting and landed in southern France, where it promptly began to make a meal out of the plentiful grape vines. The villain was the Phylloxera vastatrix, a tiny yellow aphid that feasted on the centuries-old plants; unlike the hardy roots in the insect's native US, France's vines had no resistance to the bright little parasite. Phylloxera was thus able to make its merry way from vineyard to vineyard, root to root, until it had dined on all the plants of France, devastation in its wake. Campbell follows the insect and the mighty men who bent their energies to discover the source of their ruin. The scientists who struggled to understand Phylloxera's genesis and habits, the northern bourgeois vintners who smugly blamed the devastation on southern overproduction and soil exhaustion (until their own vineyards were also decimated), and the unlikely salvation from the very source of the plague-the author makes it all into an elegant little thriller. His prose is a delight, elegantly economical and always clear, whether he's discussing the curiously complex life cycle of the hungry aphid, cataloguing the crackpot theories that arose to combat it, or bringing to life the professional rivalries that threatened toallow all of Europe to succumb to Phylloxera before a remedy was finally discovered. Being fully aware of the happy ending brings no diminishment of anxiety as the reader watches the insect march inexorably across the globe in this unlikely, thoroughly enjoyable cliffhanger.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565124608
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
03/28/2005
Pages:
360
Product dimensions:
5.56(w) x 8.75(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

CHRISTY CAMPBELL is a British writer and journalist. He has written for the Telegraph since 1990. The Botanist and the Vintner won the 2005 Glenfiddich Food and Drink Award.

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