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The Botanist and the Vintner

The Botanist and the Vintner 
How Wine Was Saved for the World
by Christy Campbell
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005.

Like a good mystery novel, this work of botanical history describes a serial killer waging its deadly business across the world's leading wine-producing regions, and the confounding efforts made to identify the culprit and bring it under control.

The murderer, who performs its dirty business secretly and is long gone before the victims wither and die, turns out to be phylloxera, a tiny aphid which preys upon grape vines like a vampire, sucking the sap from their roots. But figuring out how to contain the critter is complicated by its unusual life cycle, changeable forms and uncommon sexual behaviors.

The story begins in California's modern-day Napa Valley, where the murderer has made a surprising and worrisome reappearance after almost a century of silence. The narrative then retraces the initial crimes of the 1860s and the 30-year investigation that followed.

Christy Campbell, a British journalist, covers the story with thoroughness and pertinence, carefully explaining the importance of phylloxera and the historical consequences of its containment.



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The Botanist and the Vintner

Chronology

1863. Leaves of vines in a Hammersmith (west London) greenhouse develop strange blisters. The phenomenon is brought to the attention of J.O. Westwood, "Insect Referee" of the Gardener's Chronicle, but he does not comment in print.

1864-65. Vines around Roquemaure mysteriously begin to wither and die.

1867. Greenhouse vines at Powerscourt, ireland, show lead blisters, then sicken and die. Unknown insects are found attacking their roots... Infection in lower Rhone valley spreads remorselessly. First press reports of a new disease of the vine.


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