Wine and Plagues in 19th-Century Rural Spain

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:50 PM
Wilson Room B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Karl J. Trybus, Limestone College
In 1845, the first case of oidium—a white moldy fungus—appeared in Great Britain. From there, the destructive plague spread quickly across continental Europe, eventually devastating the vineyards of France and Spain in the 1850s. Once this fungal crisis was subdued in 1858, Europe’s vineyards were struck by an even more powerful nemesis, the Phylloxera Aphid. This sap-sucking pest destroyed vines throughout Western Europe, causing virtual devastation to the wine production. This paper investigates three aspects of these plagues and their effects on the Spanish agricultural industry and rural identity. First, I explore reports from the Catalan Instituto Agrícola Catalan de San Isidro concerning the perceived high level of quality for Catalan wines shown at the 1855 Paris Exposition Universelle—at the height of the oidium attack. These reports highlight the overwhelming importance of agriculture in Catalonia and the need for the region to protect its products from external pressures and disease threats. Next, this project explores Catalonia’s scientific studies developed to fight oidium. Agricultural specialists developed plans and specific treatments to fight this devastating fungus with the help of foreign and domestic research. Lastly, this paper will explore the overwhelming importance placed on the wine industry by the Spanish National Government, and highlight its need to combat phylloxera throughout the country. Throughout this paper I argue that Spain and its government clearly understood the overwhelming economic and social importance of its wine industry and a variety of institutions devoted serious economic and political decisions to protect this agricultural good at all costs.