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BOSCHI DI BERRI, SURVIVOR OF PHYLLOXERA

BOSCHI DI BERRI, SURVIVOR OF PHYLLOXERA

Our Dolcetto Boschi di Berri is made from the fruit of vines that are immune to phylloxera, the pest that nearly destroyed European viticulture. It is an “ancient” wine that survived a major turning point in history. 

The fact that we still have the good fortune and pleasure of drinking Italian wine is due to the intuition of professor Jules Émile Planchon from Montpellier. At the beginning of last century, he understood how to save vines from the phylloxera pest that ravaged vineyards in the 1800s.

THE CONTAGION

In 1882, word came from France that a terrible aphid from North America was decimating the vineyards in Bordeaux. Unfortunately, this pest—phylloxera—arrived in Italy not long after, creating havoc and devastation in the wine world. There seemed to be no cure. Unlike American vines, which grow galls on the leaves in response to the insects, symptoms on European vines were not visible until the plant was already dying. Phylloxera was particularly lethal because, from the very beginning, nothing was known about the insect, neither its biology nor its stages of development. It took over five years to obtain comprehensive information and understand that the pest behaved differently according to different varieties of grape vines.

THE COUNTERMEASURES

Different solutions were tried throughout Europe, from injecting carbon disulfide into the soil to spreading sand under the vines, which was done after it was noticed that the pest was less virulent if not incapable of development in sandy soils. What saved wine was understanding—as botanist Jules Émile Planchon noted—that some American vine species had developed a root immunity to phylloxera. These plants could be used to provide rootstock for European vines. Entire regions covered in vineyards were replanted with new cuttings. The price paid was heavy. While it’s true that European viticulture was saved, the direct link that tied modern vines to the uninterrupted genetic evolution of ancient vines was cut, forever gone. A new viticulture was born.

THE SURVIVORS

The stories passed down by our ancestors say that pre-phylloxera wine was different, and that the American rootstock has changed the relationship between soil and vine, acting as a filter. In Italy, there are some surviving examples. In particular, vines that were grown in acidic volcanic soils, sandy soils, and above 1200 meters did not suffer from phylloxera, and have kept their Italian identity intact. In the Aosta Valley there is Priè Blanc, in Sardinia the Carignano del Sulcis, on Etna the Alicante, in Campania there are Casavecchia and Piedirosso, and in Liguria there is Rossese Bianco.

Vigne in frazione BerriHundred-year-old vines in the Berri hamlet of La Morra

BOSCO DI BERRI DOLCETTO

Then, there is Boschi di Berri, a Dolcetto d’Alba DOC that is utterly unique. It is made from a very rare and emblematic example of vines that were not grafted on American rootstock. The grapes come from a centenary vineyard located in the hamlet of Berri in La Morra. It is a small miracle. While the surrounding vineyards were destroyed, the Berri vineyard had a fortunate combination of climate, position, and particular characteristics of its ecosystem that prevented the development of phylloxera. In fact, the soil is not calcareous clay as it is in much of the Langhe, but it is sandier and has a high percentage of iron that helped lend immunity to the vines.

 

Vigne centenarie della frazione Berri, a La MorraHundred-year-old vines in the Berri hamlet of La Morra

In the glass, Dolcetto Boschi di Berri is a magnificent, intense, ruby red color with hues that range from fuchsia to violet. Its aroma has hints of violet and raspberry, and is intense, ample, and persistent. In the mouth it is warm, round, and almost velvety, with pleasant notes of ripe cherry and currant. Its structure is similar to that of the Dolcetto wines of tradition, balanced and persistent. This important wine withstands aging in the bottle for several years. But overall, it gives a precious gift to the drinker: the tale of the fierce struggle to continue to exist, the taste of an ancient wine that survived the changing moments of history, innovation, and even style, and a sip of the authentic past.

 

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