The wine world under threat?
Vineyards are fairly susceptible to diseases and pests. The majority are monocultural – planted with only one crop – meaning that when a problem appears it tends to be a big one. Farming a field which has been home to only one crop for centuries goes against the natural order of life which creates rich tapestries of floral variety. Without this crop variation, vineyards are susceptible to any sort of change at all.
The 19th century saw no less than three devastating events for the vineyards of the world. Downy and powdery mildew, two fungal diseases, spread in succession and were later joined by phylloxera – a vine insect pest that was the worst of the lot.
As a consequence most vines around the world are a spliced version of two separate species designed to be resistant to phylloxera. Whilst this has worked as a short term fix, the problem with combatting diseases on an ad hoc basis is that it does nothing to solve the underlying issue that vines are still grown in a monoculture. Successfully solving one issue doesn’t really do much more than start the countdown for the next one.
And now the wine world may well be staring down the barrel of the next major problem: grapevine trunk disease (GTD). Described as “insidious” and “cancer-like”, GTD is actually comprised of many different fungal pathogens under one umbrella which are a mixture of old and new. At one end you have esca which was known to the Romans and called “the heart attack of the vines” by the French; at the other you have diseases which can’t be diagnosed without cutting into the wood, an act which kills the vine.
Whilst not as dramatic as phylloxera, GTD is spreading rapidly and has the International Organisation of Vine and Wine worried. It estimates that 20% of the world’s vineyards are now affected and that there will need to be a vast programme of replanting if the wine trade is to survive. Given that replanting generally means five years of lost production and colossal expense it is probably a good idea to grasp the nettle and get on with it if the job needs doing. It is being described as the best solution, but it appears the cost and hassle is causing many to bury their heads in the sand at the present time.
The consequences for wine drinkers are the usual ones: prices will go up as wine becomes scarcer and the quality of the drink will decline as fewer vines survive to reach maturity. Some varieties are more susceptible than others, so if you enjoy sauvignon, syrah, grenache or chenin blanc then you perhaps need to consider embracing new varieties in the future.