The Mother Vine

Welcome to the Atlas Obscura Community discussion of The Mother Vine in Manteo, North Carolina. Ask questions or share travel tips, experiences, pictures, or general comments with the community. For the story behind this place, check out the Atlas Obscura entry:

Wasn’t the Mother Vine also responsible for saving French wine grapes from the blight in the mid-19th century? The blight was caused by American bugs and the solution was using the American vine that was resistant to them I believe. Can anyone confirm?

1 Like

No, it was actually California grapes that saved the French wine industry. The vineyards in California were created with French vines and were harvested after the grape blight to restart the wineries in France.

Wikipedia references several American grape species at this url

Other American grape species were utilized in the revitalization of French stock are linked in that article

As a winemaker, my information says that California vines were not established to provide relief to the European blight which began around 1815. The 4 native rootstocks imported to Europe to fight the Phylloxera vastatrix were taken from vines in Kentucky. Phylloxera is a microscopic organism with a mosquito like proboscus which injects an anti-coagulating chemical into the leaf vein on the underside. The plant leaf - unable to stop ‘bleeding’ so to speak, quickly looses its nutrients to the insect, shrivels, dies, and the insect moves to the next leaf ultimately killing the vine. It also attacks at the roots with the same effect. The 4 American rootstocks provided to Europe were from plants that evolved with an anti-anti-coagulant. The vines were not the typical sweet fruity vines we know of today but rather from vines producing blander berries. They include the vitis labrusca whose hybrids include vitis berlandieri, vitis riparia, and vitis rupestris. The rupestris: July, sand, sugar, beach, bush, currant, ingar, rock, and mountain grapes. The riparia includes riverbank grapes or frost grapes. The berlandia is known as the Fall grape. Labruscas include Catawba, Concord, Delaware, Isabella, Niagra, Agawam, Alexander, and Onaka among many others. As chemical treatments became more popular in the 1950s, the French Government ordered vinyards throughout the country to rip up the transplanted roots stocks. All but a small appellation on the border of Switzerland complied. That sub appellation is Jura.

1 Like

Yes, the phyloxera virus hit all European vines in around 1865 and destroyed the wine industries. They were rebuilt using cuttings that were grafted onto American root stocks.

1 Like

Wow, that’s some detailed information. As a viticulturist I am well aware of Phylloxera and the need to use American rootstocks, but I have never gone in to the detailed mechanism of how they are resistant.
Just one correction, Phyllozera is a root aphid, an insect, and is big enough to be seen with the naked eye if you look hard enough. It spreads through the cracks in the soil, so it is not a problem in sandy soils.
It spread to Australia in 1878, if I remember correctly, and decimated the nascent wine industry. The only fix was to replant all the vineyards that were not on sandy soils with vines grafted on to resistant American rootstocks. Only 10 percent of the vineyards were replanted.
Some clones that were planted in Australia died out in France during the outbreak in the 19th century and a few decades ago were re-introduced into the French vineyards, especially our famous shiraz grapes. I imagine the same is true for California.
There are 20 species of grapevines native to North America, as opposed to only 1 in Europe. Some American species had other properties that were useful, such as adaptability to lime soils, or could be used to dwarf the grafted variety. These have since been bred and cross bred to provide grafted vines with their strengths. Very few American species have palatable fruits, though a few hybrids have been bred and some varieties have been selected that are commercially cultivated in a very small way.

As a native TEXAN living in Missouri, I’d heard it claimed that Missouri rootstock was what saved the French wine industry. Did some checking, sonofagun, found this quote on Wikipedia at the heading
The Great French Wine Blight
Many growers resorted to their own methods in attempt to resolve the issue. Chemicals and pesticides were used to no avail. In desperation, some growers positioned toads under each vine, and others allowed their poultry to roam free in the hope they would eat the insects. None of these methods was successful.

After Charles Valentine Riley, Missouri’s state entomologist, confirmed Planchon’s theory, two French wine growers, both suggested the possibility that if vinifera vines could be combined, by means of [grafting], with the aphid-resistant American vines, then the problem might be solved. Thomas Volney Munson was consulted and provided native Texan rootstocks for grafting. Because of Munson’s role, the French government in 1888 sent a delegation to Denison, Texas to confer on him the French Legion of Honor Chevalier du Mérite Agricole.