How North America Destroyed the Vineyards of Europe

How North America Destroyed Europe's Vineyards

And why you should learn the history of French Wine Law - Part I

During the 19th century, wine is THE most traded commodity in the world. It was not the arms trade (as it is today); it was wine.

 

And it’s France that commands first place as the undisputed world leader in the premium wine trade.

It’s the Industrial Revolution. For the first time ever, railways and steamships will connect goods quickly to markets around the entire globe.

These improved trade routes will stimulate unfettered consumer demand for European wines that will generate a planting frenzy in France, Italy and Spain.

And then, the wine market will crash. Not just once, but many times.

This post is the first of a series of 3.

In these next lines, we will learn what caused the wine market crashes of the 19th century and explore the devastating vine diseases that are still a problem for vignerons today. We detail how 4 scourges will destroy Europe’s vineyards during its guilded age; when they arrive, how they are spread, and what the known cures for them are.

Visit us again for Part 2 where we look at what happens next during the so called ‘dark ages’ of wine. Unscrupulous fraudsters will fill voids left by severe yield shortages. They will produce watered down plonk – all sold under famous French names.

In part 3, learn why everyone interested in wine education or WSET certification needs to know the history of French wine law. After the economic devastation and social unrest of this period, it is France that will step up to create new wine laws. They will establish governing bodies to protect the price, prestige and quality of their most lucrative possession, their wine. In fact, they are so successful, French wine law will become the blueprint for most European wine and food laws today.

{If your interested in a fascinating look at how society’s views have changed towards wine, spirits and our health from the 16th century until today? Read this post here.}

So why during the golden era of wine trading, did the market crash?

The wine market crashes of 1845, 1863, 1882 and 1885.

Wine growth during the 19th century is primarily fuelled by improved trade routes that bring goods to markets around the world. Ironically, it is equally the cause of it’s demise. Transatlantic trade brings back vine diseases from North America that European vines can’t withstand.

Somm

Vine Diseases

1. Powdery Mildew - 1845

What is it?

Powdery mildew (öidium in French or now more widely known as uncinula necator). This disease attacks the green parts of vines. It gets it’s name from the spores that multiply into powdery looking cobweb-like growths.

How does it spread?

Winds will swiftly spread the disease. Found in England in 1845, it will cross the Atlantic to France by 1847.

What does it do?

Powdery mildew decreases both the amount of wine made from the plants as well, the quality is crap. Infected grapes make mouldy tasting wine. It also reduces the colour and the amount of wine that can be made.

Powdery mildew will cause the disasterous vintage of 1854 – France’s smallest since 1788.

The cure

Fortunately, the gardener who first disovers powdery mildew in England also notices the cure – a mixture of sulphur, lime and water – and sprays it on the vines. After 1854, this solution is widely accepted (and still used today).

2. Phylloxera - discovered in France in 1963

What it is and what it does?

Phylloxera is a louse (plural: lice) that feeds of the roots of vines causing it to bleed out the sap and eventually kills the plant. So just as France’s vineyards recover from powdery mildew, this bug will come along.

How it spreads?

And it doesn’t stop in France. Slowly through the decades, it will crawl its way throughout Europe. Originally called Phylloxera Vastatrix (the devastator), it is now called Dactylasphaera Vitifolia.

Truly, the social and economic effects of phylloxera are massive and can be compared to the failed potato harvests of Ireland. In France alone, that bloody bug will annihilate 2.5 million hectares of vineyards!

 

Phylloxera Vastatrix or 'the Devastator' as it wiped out most of the vineyards in Europe - "Phylloxeria Plant Louse" by treegrow is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In fact, riots will ensue in Burgundy. Lynch mobs will attack the teams sent in to spray the vines and soldiers are sent in to surround and protect the famous Meursault vineyard.

Imagine the trauma of watching your neighbour’s entire vineyard die and then waiting and seeing it come for your own.

The cure?

Eventually, scientists discover they can graft French vines onto American rootstocks and save their plants. American vines form a scab over the feeding area so the vine doesn’t bleed to death and survives.

But, it will take some time to implement this change, to find rootstocks that will work in French soils and…to convince the French. Indeed, Burgundy will outlaw this solution until 1887, almost 20 years after it’s arrival there.

3. Downy Mildew or Peronspera (introduced in France sometime before 1882)

What is it?

While the cure for phylloxera is fully underway, a new disaster will strike. Likely carried on the rootstocks sent from North America to prevent phylloxera, a fungus called downy mildew will slip into the country.

By 1882, the disease is already widespread throughout France. In fact, downy mildew is one of the most economically significant vine diseases for decades to come, producing many record low-yielding vintages up until 1969.

What does it do?

Downy mildew attacks the green parts of the vine and can cause the leaves to fall off completely – thereby halting photosynthesis. You can’t make much wine with what’s leftover and the resultant wines are weak.

How it spreads and the cure?

Generally spread during wet vintages, copper sprays are the first effective treatment. Now, expensive fungicides are also used.

4. Black rot - 1885

What is it?

American rootstocks also brought black rot fungus to Europe (Guignardia Bidwelli).

In fact, right now it’s currently contaminating vines in Europe.

 

 

How it spreads what does it do?

It’s spread by mild, wet temperatures and can kill upwards of 80% of your crop. It attacks leaves, shoots, and berries. Early signs show tan coloured spots on the leaves. This schmo is such a swindler as grapes will appear to be normal until mid-summer when berries will turn black, shrivel and turn into ‘mummies’.

How it spreads and the cure?

This is the bane of organic growers because of the limited ways to control it. Infected mummified berries must be painstakingly removed (along with parts of the cane) and burned. Otherwise, the spores will survive overwinter and come back in the spring.

It takes merely 7 hours in warm, wet conditions to spread!

For non-organic growers, fungicides need to be applied in the Spring continuously until the fruit ripens.

Those are the 4 scourges causing the complete annihilation of the wine market in the 19th century. How did this happen?

Improved trade routes grant quick access to new markets all over the world stimulating demand for Europe’s wines. At the same time, diseases piggyback on organic material from North American and plague all of Europe; native European vine species have no defence mechanisms to protect themselves.

But what happens next is equally as discomforting.

Visit us next week, where we cover the ‘dark ages’ of European wine. When consumer demand for European wine is at it’s pinnacle, fraudsters flood the market with ‘wine’ made from beet juice.

And if you’re interested in learning more about European wine law, visit us at https://www.sommwine.com/ for information on our next wine and sommelier courses.

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Good-bye to Beaujolais Icon Georges Duboeuf

This week, the wine industry lost one of it’s tireless trailblazers. Georges Duboeuf, aged 86, died. With Georges’ passing, the entire wine world paused in silent reflection.

Perhaps you’ve tried a bottle of Duboeuf Beaujolais wine?

Beaujolais is a red wine that smells and tastes of bright raspberry and cherry fruits. These wines are never drying or bitter and most are made for immediate consumption and pleasure. That is, the vast majority of them do not require cellaring and are just scrumptiously delicious on release. Glug, glug!

In fact one style of Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau, is the earliest legally released wine in France. On the third Thursday in November, at 12:01 am, the first Beaujolais Nouveau is released to the public, during a massive party, torchlight parades and fireworks. And this party lasts an entire week!

Georges Duboeuf, is known as the largest marketer extraordinaire of Beaujolais’ success.

In a region that has been shrinking steadily over the last 2 decades, the Duboeuf family has kept many vignerons in business. The Duboeuf domain only owns one Beaujolais estate: Château des Capitan’s in the Cru of Julienas. But they purchase 20% of all grapes in the region for their Duboeuf family brand to make 2.5 million cases annually.

What is Beaujolais Nouveau?

These wines are released when they are maybe 1-2 months old. They are made with a winemaking technique known as carbonic maceration which brightens both the color of the wine to give it a fuchsia rim as well as a pronounced candied cherry fruit aroma and flavor.

 GEORGES DUBOEUF BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU 2019

Beaujolais Nouveau should be chilled before drinking. Serving temperature for this light bodied red wine is best at a cool 10 º Celsius. Most sources say you should chill the wine to bring out the fruit flavors. What this really means is that chilling the wine tapers the sour tartness of these super young wines.

Drink immediately and do not cellar. Glug, glug!

Here’s a breakdown of Beaujolais appellations terms of quality from lowest to highest.

  1. Beaujolais AOC

Basic Beaujolais wines are made from grapes grown on the flatter sites and may go through carbonic maceration (see above) or at least a semi-carbonic giving it that fuchsia rim and lifted bright red fruit aroma and flavor. The main difference between this and the Nouveau category is that they are generally a little more concentrated and released after some time spent in the winery that results in softer mouthwatering acidity.

Serve at 12 degrees Celsius in a Burgundy wine glass. Hold for 1 year only and do not cellar.

 

      2. Beaujolais Villages – Beaujolais Villages wines are made from grapes that are grown on hillside sites that give better drainage and result in a slightly richer style of wine.

Serve at 12 degrees Celsius in a Burgundy wine glass. Drink within 2 years

     3. Beaujolais Cru – there are 10 ‘Cru’ villages in Beaujolais. A Cru village occupies the best sites for growing Gamey, the grape in Beaujolais wine. The grapes are planted in the best granite soils and on hillside slopes with the best aspects. Crus are the closest thing to a Grand Cru you can get from Beaujolais.

Old vines in Morgon - one of 10 Beaujolais Crus
Old vines in Morgon – one of 10 Beaujolais Crus

 

 

 

For taste, these wines are even riper and more concentrated. They move away from the black raspberry and tart cherry of the villages and nouveau bottling’s and instead offer more black cherry and plum fruit along with slight tannins (that fuzzy drying feeling on your gums). Some of these have a hint of cinnamon spice from oak barrels.

Duboeuf produces many Cru wines from grapes they purchase. But they only grow grapes on their own estate for just one wine, the Château des Capitan’s Julienas. This is considered the top wine from Duboeuf. It’s only $25 at British Columbia Liquor Stores.

Drink most Cru bottling’s within 3 years. However, wines that are vilified traditionally (without carbonic maceration) may be cellared for up to 10 years. Serve at 15º Celsius.

When you enjoy Beaujolais, give a nod to Georges Duboeuf for sharing them with the world.

 

 

Best Wines for Mother’s Day

Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, wines tastes are sexist.

What do I mean?

If you speak to a heterosexual couple and ask them what kind of wine they would like to drink; the woman wants a white wine and the man wants a full-bodied red wine. That is, if the guy doesn’t just want a beer.

But it’s 2019, you deplore; we shouldn’t generalize this way.

Except that most of the time, if you speculated this way, you would be right more times than you’d be wrong.

Since we’re generalizing, we would also be correct to assume that the woman in this circumstance will be more agreeable and likely will choose the full-bodied red wine over her own preference because she’s ‘not so fussy’. And really, the guy is only having the wine to please his female partner so it is a compromise on both sides.

Ying and Yang

But tomorrow is Mother’s Day!

We’ve watched our mom’s compromise time and time again. Let’s get mom whatever she REALLY WANTS!

So if she drinks wine, here are my Best Wines for Mother’s Day recommendations.

White wine and slightly bubbleD!

Vinho Verde from Portugal

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Vinho Verde means ‘green wine’; referring to the wine being youthful, just like mom. Not only are these wines beautifully aromatic with tart pear, orange blossom and white flowers, they are bottled with a touch of effervescence (bubbles) and are dry to off-dry. Another great feature is they are low alcohol wines (9-11%) which means it is perfect for our ‘Best Wines for Mother’s Day’ list.

‘Cause really, no one wants to see mom wasted sharing your most embarassing diaper stories with company!

Did I mention that these wines are REALLY inexpensive too?!

ROSÉ wine

Côte de Provence from France

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Rosés from Provence wines are a gorgeous light pastel pink colour  – just like the sun setting over the ocean, and they smell lightly of strawberries and white flower perfume, quite sublime and therefore, a best wine for Mother’s Day! Côtes de Provence wines are usually 12.5%-13% abv and dry.

Top notched wines are mid-priced and higher.

Red Wine + Esoteric

Verduno Pelaverga from Italy

An hour away from Barolo in Piedmont sits the village of Verduno, a steep hillside with the white-capped Alps mountains in the background. It’s a red wine, but it is sleeeek. Pale ruby coloured and quite aromatic with ripe strawberry fields and dried garrigue herbs.

Make sure the label says ‘Verduno Pelaverga’ and not just ‘Verduno’ – they are made with a better biotype of the grape and are therefore, more richly scented.

Take mom on a picnic in the park with this bottle!

Yes, it is thoughtful to send your mother a gift such as wine on Mother’s Day. She is the reason we exist; she’s our tree, our unwavering support. The self-sacrifycing ‘I’m not so fussy’ line’ she’s stated for years is the reason we’ve grown up to be the people we are.

Make sure on Mother’s Day you remember what’s REALLY important and give your mom the gift of time.

Happy Mother’s Day, Marian!