French winemakers demand action on 'incurable' grape disease devastating vines
(Telegraph) - The airborne fungus has hit grape yields and winemakers say they need emergency funding to take action.
French winemakers have demanded emergency funding to deal with an "incurable" grape disease which they fear could become as devastating as a 19th-century plague that almost destroyed the nation's vineyards.
The fungal disease, esca, has infected 13 per cent of France's vines this year, costing the industry more than €1 billion (£790 million).
It is transmitted by airborne fungi and the only known treatment, sodium arsenite, is banned because it is carcinogenic.
Once it is detected, vines have to be ripped up and burned. It stunts their growth and can cause them to wither and die rapidly.
Vineyard owners, many of whom were already struggling to make ends meet, are facing catastrophic extra costs because their yields have fallen drastically and they have been forced to plant new vines.
The resurgence of the disease, which dates from Roman times, was detected in mid-August on sauvignon vines in the Loire Valley. It has now spread elsewhere in France and has also been found in other European winemaking countries and California.
French wine industry leaders are urging the European Union and national governments to declare the fight against esca an international emergency and provide funding to step up research to find a cure or a preventive treatment.
"We're worried that it could spread like wildfire," said Guy Vasseur, head of the Permanent Assembly of France's Chambers of Agriculture.
Mr Vasseur called for action before the deadly fungus "becomes like phylloxera" – a tiny pest that ravaged vineyards across Europe and all but wiped out the French wine industry in what was known as the Great Wine Blight in the late 19th century.
"We've tried a lot of things but nothing has worked so far," he said.
"We haven't got a solution and all we can to is remove vines and plant new ones."
Some winemakers are so desperate that they have started playing music to their vines in the hope that it will make them resistant to the fungi that spread esca.