Wine history in Europe is pretty much split into two distinct periods. That’s before and after the phylloxera. Phylloxera is a vine pest that came over from North America in the 1860s and effectively ate its way through the roots of most of Europe’s vineyards.
Between 1870 and 1895 it’s estimated up to 80%of Europe’s vineyards were destroyed. The fallout from the disaster saw tough times for many, but Rioja, as I found out on a recent trip, could be argued to have been one of the few winners.
As I mentioned yesterday, Rioja was little known til the 19thcentury railway opened it up to larger markets, either in Spain, or abroad. But a couple of the fallouts from phylloxera saw a boom in production.
Firstly, Rioja was hit by the bug much later than the famous vineyards of places like Bordeaux. So what did the Bordelais do? They bought in truck loads of wine or grapes from Rioja and used that in their blends, bottled under the Château label. Today that’d all be a bit “naughty, naughty” and I’m not sure it was exactly shouted from the rooftops back then either.
Secondly, if the vignerons from the South of France or Italy or elsewhere had had their vineyards completely trashed by the little bugger, then it was time to move on. Immigrants with a high level of grape growing and wine making skills flooded into areas like Rioja to continue their working lives.
Ok, so the vines of Rioja eventually got infected too, but by that point a way to salvage vineyards had been discovered, and Rioja was now firmly on the conscience of European wine. And it just got better and better.