In the 1860s an aphid-type insect called Phylloxera was devastating French vineyards, attaching themselves to the rootstock of grape vines and rotting them from the inside out. There was no way to eradicate this parasite. Many feared that the French wine industry, and perhaps all of European wine, would be destroyed.
What is now known as the Great French Wine Blight could have been much worse...if not for Missouri.
Ironically, Phylloxera was an American pest that found its way across the Atlantic in the 1850s. It was routine for America to send grape vines to Europe via steamship for experimenting and grafting during this time, not realizing that Phylloxera was also on board.
Many of the vines shipped to France came from Missouri, a wine region dating back to the 1840s. As French vineyards were being wiped out by Phylloxera, their government put out a call for help from scientists around the globe. Back in Missouri, in 1870, state entomologist Charles Valentine Riley recognized the description of the parasite by the French as Phylloxera. He had observed it on leaves of vines in Missouri. He went to France in 1871 to look at their bug and confirmed it was the same.
Fortunately, rootstock in America were immune to Phylloxera. So Riley, in conjunction with Missouri viticulturist George Hussmann, crafted a plan to graft French vines onto American rootstock. Millions of rootstock were shipped to France from Hermann, Missouri, and elsewhere around the state. The grafting worked and the French wine industry was saved.
The next time you enjoy a glass of fine French wine say a toast to Missouri. In many ways you are drinking their wine too!