Definition - What does Phylloxera mean?

Phylloxera is a microscopic root insect that attacks the roots of grape vines (Vitis vinifera). Native to North America, phylloxera feed off the vine's root system by forming protective galls around their bodies. The galls make it difficult for the vines to absorb water and necessary nutrients.

Common symptoms of an infestation are yellowing of the vines and stunted growth.

WineFrog explains Phylloxera

Phylloxera infestations are one of the most common pest problems plaguing grape vines. These infestations are easily transferrable from root to root and vineyard to vineyard, causing massive damage when left unchecked. Similar to an aphid, the phylloxera bug was responsible for wiping out over 70 percent of France’s grape vines by the early 1900s and changed the way Europeans propagated and maintained their vineyards, this event was called The Great French Wine Blight.

There are multiple ways in which these infestations can occur.

  • Natural materials, such as cutting, rootlings, grapes, juice or must can harbor phylloxera.
  • Soil that contains a lot of debris or is an optimal temperature and humidity provides an environment conducive to multiplying.
  • Machinery and vehicles transfer phylloxera around and between vineyards.
  • People, such as tourists and workers, spread phylloxera by tracking them around on their feet or clothes.

No chemical or biological controls are available to eradicate phylloxera. By the time they are detected, the infestation is already too widespread. Over the years, important advances have been made to produce resistant grape vine varieties and other environmental enhancements that are detrimental to phylloxera.

  • Grafting - It was found, shortly after the infestation in France, that American grape vines were resistant to phylloxera. By grafting the European vines onto American rootstocks, phylloxera were unable to feed on the roots, but the grape vine still retained the European vine’s fruit and qualities.
  • Soil remediation - Sandy soils provide some protection against phylloxera by creating a harsh environment. This explains in part why some western Australian and Tasmanian vineyards appear immune to infestations.
  • Vineyard hygiene and other preventative measures - Vineyard staff policies are more vigilant of cross-contamination tendencies and also provide for more frequent inspections of vineyard acreage.
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