Synopses & Reviews
In the mid-1860s, grapevines in southeastern France inexplicably began to wither and die. French botanist Jules-Émile Planchon was sent to investigate. Magnifying glass in hand, he discovered that the vine roots were covered in microscopic yellow insects. The aphids would be named Phylloxera vastatrix
"the dry leaf devastator." Where they had come from was a mystery.
Soon the noblest vineyards in Europe and California came under biological siege. No one could slow phylloxera's maddening, destructive pace. The French government offered a prize of three hundred thousand gold francs for a remedy, and increasingly bizarre suggestions flooded in. Planchon believed he had the answer and set out to convince the skeptical wine-making and scientific establishments. Aided by the American entomologist Charles Valentine Riley and a decade of research into the strange life history of the insect, Planchon at long last proved that the remedy rested within the vines themselves.
The Botanist and the Vintner is an astonishing account of one of the earliest and most successful applications of science to an ecological disaster. And even now, the story continues as new strains of phylloxera attack vineyards in France, California, and New Zealand.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Gripping....Campbell spins a vinous tale to make the blood run cold....Being fully aware of the happy ending brings no diminishment of anxiety...in this unlikely, thoroughly enjoyable cliffhanger." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Campbell's commentary turns sardonic, sympathetic, or bemused as he covers the myriad local and national reactions to the long-running crisis. Connoisseurs of good writing and good wine will love this book." Booklist
"An extraordinary story...astonishing, thorougly researched and well-written." The Sunday Telegraph
A fascinating story of scientific exploration, political filibustering, profiteering, and a tiny aphid from the United States that eluded scientists and almost destroyed the vineyards of Europe, robbing the world of the finest wine.
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.
About the Author
Christy Campbell is a British writer and journalist. He has written for the Sunday Telegraph since 1990, when he joined as defense correspondent. He has produced a series of special supplements for the Telegraph on twentieth-century history.