Fatal fungus threatens vines across southwest France

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  • Thursday 4 September 2008

A fatal fungus that attacks vines is becoming increasingly prevalent across the wine regions of Bordeaux, Gascony and the Charente, it has emerged.

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The disease, a fungus called Esca (known more commonly as vine measles, or vine cancer), attacks the woody parts of the vine, eventually killing the entire plant.

Very little is known about its origin, how it spreads, or its likely progression. Although it affects vines all over the world, this year there has been a sharp rise in reported cases of Esca in southwest France.

There are calls for an agricultural emergency to be declared in the area, and demands for state aid to replant the affected vines.

‘You can literally see the vines withering before your eyes,’ a winemaker in Gascony told a local newspaper. ‘We are going to need to pull up and replant vines that are scarcely 15 years old.’

Auch, a large town in the area, is due to hold a demonstration on September 15, demanding government assistance.

Winegrowers in Bordeaux, Cognac and Champagne have also reported widespread problems, with some estimating the disease is affecting up to 20% of all vines in France.

Chris Foss, senior wine lecturer at Plumpton agricultural College in the UK, told decanter.com the disease was almost unstoppable.

‘The disease can be treated with sodium arsenite, but the product has been banned since 2001 because of public health concerns,’ he said. ‘All wood diseases are an absolute nightmare because they are so difficult to treat, and they seem to be getting more prevalent.’

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