The Phylloxera Aphid - (Dactylasphaera Vitifoliae)
During the latter half of the 20th Century, a great deal of botanical research was being done around the world. One focus was on grapes for wine. Europe had a long history of grape-growing and wine-making using vitis vinifera grapes. The V. vinifera includes all the popular wine grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and on and on. In the new world, there were grapes that were not V. vinifera. In the Southern United States, V. rotundifolia was/is represented by the muscadine grape, one type of which, Scuppernong, is used in the well-known Virginia Dare wine from the State of North Carolina. In the northern USA, V. Labrusca was native to the colder climate. Most labrusca grapes are Concord, but other labrusca include Catawba, Delaware, Niagara, Isabella and others.
Grapes were the object of botanical research and vines traveled both ways across the Atlantic. Unknown to these researchers was that the phylloxera aphid were present on the labrusca grape's roots but the labrusca were impervious to them. In about 1863, the French were talking about a problem in the vineyards that they didn't understand. It began with a couple of vines would have yellowing leaves that turned red, dried up and dropped off.
For about a decade, various botanists and vineyardists tried to overcome the phylloxera, but it was to no avail. Then someone decided to use the laburusca rootstock and graft the vinifera grapes to it. This became the solution. The result is that virtually all the vinifera grapes in the world are grafted onto Labrusca rootstock.
Wine critic and author Kerin O'Keefe says in a Decanter article, "The Great Escape" , that there are a few small vineyards in Europe where not all the vinifera vines were destroyed. So it may be possible to get a taste of wines as they were before the phylloxera devastation.
For no obvious reason, three tiny parcels of ungrafted Pinot Noir escaped phylloxera, making it possible to produce one of the rarest and most expensive Champagnes available: Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises.
A rare vintage port is made from ungrafted vines grown on a small parcel, called Nacional, in the heart of the Quinta do Noval estate. Again, no plausible reason exists why this plot survived while others succumbed.
Another vineyard untouched by the blight is the Lisini estate in Montalcino: a half-hectare vineyard of Sangiovese, with vines dating back to the mid-1800s, which inexplicably never succumbed to phylloxera. Since 1985 the winery has produced a few precious bottles of Prefillossero. The wine has devout followers, including Italian wine critic Luigi Veronelli, who inscribed on a bottle of the 1987, on show at the winery, that drinking Prefillossero was like listening to ‘the earth singing to the sky