Cu­ri­ouser and Cu­ri­ouser

Lessons in un­in­tended con­se­quences, lit­tle green crea­tures and the lim­its of hu­man wis­dom

Business Traveler (USA) - - TALKING POINT -

In the in­ter­ests of full dis­clo­sure, you need to un­der­stand that I’m a search en­gine junkie. No­body who knows me will be sur­prised at that rev­e­la­tion, but mostly it comes from the sheer fun of learn­ing about stuff – all kinds of stuff. As the edi­tor of a mag­a­zine about travel – a field that en­com­passes top­ics from air­port kiosks to Zim­babwe – and with Google and its ilk just an‘en­ter’but­ton away, there are a vir­tu­ally un­lim­ited num­ber of in­for­ma­tion rabbit holes down which I can dis­ap­pear. Cu­rios­ity may not have killed the cat, but it cer­tainly has done in my dead­lines on more than one oc­ca­sion.

The sub­ject du jour this month is viti­cul­ture and the pests that have plagued grape grow­ers since the bi­b­li­cal days of Noah. Read­ing through Lark Gould’s story about Wash­ing­ton, DC, and the bur­geon­ing winer­ies in sur­round­ing Vir­ginia coun­ties ( Liv­ing Po­tomac Style, page 24), I found my­self stuck on the ref­er­ence to phyl­lox­era. I’d read about this blight be­fore, but for some rea­son this time han­kered to learn more.

Phyl­lox­era – more specif­i­cally phyl­lox­era vitafo­liae – is a green­ish aphid-like crea­ture, nigh well in­de­struc­tible and with a vo­ra­cious ap­petite for the leaves and roots of the grapevine. Na­tive to North Amer­ica, phyl­lox­era was ap­par­ently held in check be­cause the roots of Amer­i­can vines are re­sis­tant to the in­sect’s at­tacks.

Then in 1862, a French wine mer­chant named Mon­sieur Borty im­ported some Amer­i­can cut­tings to plant in his Rhône vine­yard, thereby un­leash­ing the deadly pesti­lence on the en­tire French wine in­dus­try. Un­like their Amer­i­can cousins, the French vines were un­able to with­stand the on­slaught, and by 1884, twothirds of French vine­yards had been erad­i­cated and the rest were in peril. De­spite a re­ward of 300,000 francs for a rem­edy and a mul­ti­tude of id­i­otic and down­right poi­sonous pro­pos­als, French wines seemed doomed. That is, un­til a French botanist named Jules Émile Plan­chon pro­posed the out­landish (to the French) so­lu­tion of graft­ing French vines to Amer­i­can root­stock – yes, the same roots that had brought the plague in the first place. French prej­u­dice against the Amer­i­can grape proved al­most as per­ni­cious as the bugs them­selves, but by the 1890’s France’s vine­yards were un­der­go­ing large-scale re­plant­ing with the re­sis­tant vines. Et vi­olá – vive la vin!

Now this saga of botan­i­cal blun­ders made me cu­ri­ous. Surely M. Borty, the un­wit­ting vil­lain of the piece, did not set about to de­stroy France’s an­cient winer­ies. Equally cer­tain, the op­po­si­tion to the‘Amer­i­can so­lu­tion’may have been pride­ful, but it was wellmean­ing. Notwith­stand­ing, both choices wound up be­ing short­sighted and ter­ri­bly de­struc­tive. Which begs the ques­tion: How much of his­tory’s‘great wis­dom’have we ac­cepted un­chal­lenged, only to dis­cover in hind­sight that we should have known bet­ter?

Re­mem­ber the corol­lary to Mur­phy’s Law –“na­ture sides with the hid­den flaw.”

In our trav­els, we en­counter all man­ner of the mar­velous, the unique, the imag­i­na­tive. In large part these rare mo­ments are the ones that make the jour­ney worth­while. Some­times we bring these new ideas home with us and they thrive; oth­ers need to be grafted onto the vine of our own ex­pe­ri­ences in or­der to come to flower. Still oth­ers need to be left alone and just ap­pre­ci­ated for where and what they are. And it will take all our wis­dom to de­ter­mine which is which among them.

In spite of that, we should never be afraid to gather the trea­sures along the way. BT

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