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Wine Books: Christy Campbell

Christy Campbell is a historical investigator rather than a dedicated wine writer. Nevertheless his investigation into Phylloxera, the pest that devastated the vineyards of Europe in the late 19th century, is a great work that will be of interest to all with an interest in wine.

Christy CampbellPhylloxera: How Wine Was Saved for the World (2004)
Christy Campbell
Harper Perennial
Available from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (USA)
ISBN-13: 978-0007115365

Christy Campbell has written on all matters of historical subjects, from gunpowder plots to the shenanigans of Queen Victoria. Here he presents us with a mystery-thriller style account of a vine disease that swept across France in the latter half of the 19th Century. Except, of course, that most of us already know the culprit, so it is only the historical figures portrayed that experience any mystery. Despite always knowing the eventual outcome, this is a worthwhile book. It is the details that Campbell brings to the fore, as the French vignerons battle this disease, that provide the interest in this book. Early cases were spotted in Cheshire, for instance, with vines cultivated in glasshouses by keen amateur horticulturists falling prey to the vine louse. Much attention is paid to how the disease spread across France, and what methods were employed to try to halt its progress. From flooding vineyards, to replanting in the sandy soils of the coast, or even restocking vineyards with the resistant Vitis labrusca varieties imported from America, there were many possible answers to the disaster. And yet it seems an interminable age before the vignerons of France realised that replanting on American rootstock was the solution, although at the time I am sure this seemed as mad an idea as any other. Now, of course, it is the norm in all but a few isolated vineyards. Although it seems quite slow moving at times, reflecting the inertia of the French establishment in tackling the problem, Phylloxera does have its high points. The investigation into the life cycle of the louse is fascinating, and clearly illustrates the difficulties in understanding this terrible devastator of France's vineyards. A good read.