Dealing With Phylloxera
What is Grape Phylloxera:
A small, yellow, root-feeding aphid or plant louse which affects only grapevines, and kills by attacking their roots. It is a relentless and certain death for all vines of a susceptible species but has little affect on other grapevines that are not susceptible.
The History of Phylloxera:
Throughout the 18th century, attempts to establish European vinifera vines in America failed due to the not yet recognized parasite, "Phylloxera."
Throughout the mid 19th century there was a considerable importation of living grape vine plants from America into Europe, some of which were grapevines carrying Phylloxera. It was in the late 19th century that French vineyards began to notice an incredible drop in production, which many explained away as overproduction, winter cold, or soil exhaustion. Further investigation beginning in the Rhone region, produced the controversial result that the Phylloxera parasite was the problem. By 1888, it had decimated the French wine industry. After much research it was decided that the most viable solution to the Phylloxera problem was to graft their French varietals to those American rootstocks which were found to be resistant to Phylloxera.
Meanwhile, in the late 1800's, the wine industry in California was growing at a rapid pace and many vine cuttings were being imported from Europe to support this rapid planting. In the 1890's, phylloxera would ruin more than 250,000 acres of these vineyards in California, leaving our wine industry in shambles.
Following Prohibition, in the 1930’s, California’s wine industry began to rebuild itself. Much of the large scale planting was done in the 70's and 80's on the AXR-1 rootstock which was developed at the U.C. Davis. Two root types had been crossed to produce AXR-1 and one of these two root types was actually known to be vulnerable to Phylloxera. Unfortunately therefore, phylloxera would thus reappear in the United States in the 1980's attacking the widely-used AXR-1 rootstock. This has forced yet another major replanting and caused a financial blow to California’s wine industry.
Phylloxera at JARVIS:
The original 25 acres of vineyards at JARVIS were planted in 1985 on AXR-1 rootstock. We have now lost about 10% of these vines to Phylloxera, losing now up to 4% per year. The Phylloxera completely finish off the roots of one vine before moving to the next one. The process is inexorable and relentless. Since our vines were planted using wide-spacing , we were able to interplant new Phylloxera resistant vines in between each old vine and let the new vines mature before ripping out the old vineyard. We therefore, lose only one year of production rather than 3 years. We can also schedule, up to a point, when the loss of production occurs.
Planning Ahead to Benefit from Replanting:
By having our own estate vineyards, we have actually found some important benefits in this process of replanting. We have introduced better clones and we have also added the blending varietals Petit Verdot and Malbec to our vineyards. We have increased the amount of Cabernet Franc and Merlot vines to help support the growing demand for JARVIS Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the Lake William blend.
A - By controlling our own estate vineyards, we are planning ahead on quantity of wine so as to keep a constant predictable supply for our customers. Restaurants, wine shops and Inner Circle members are thus protected for a continuing supply during each year.
B - We are also planning ahead on potential blending. These plans must be made years ahead of wine release. In this way we can keep a consistent taste from year to year along with our ever improving quality.
C - Included in our planning is a 3 year aging of red wines before release. It is too much to ask customers that they age the red wines they purchase for one or two years minimum before drinking. We thus release our Cabernet Sauvignon the 3rd year after harvest rather than the 2nd year which is commonly done.