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Reconstitution of Portuguese Vineyards

by means of American Stocks.



Professor at the Superior Institute of Agriculture at Lisbon.

The cultivation of the vine is still one of the most important and characteristic branches of agriculture in Portugal. Vines are cultivated in every part of the country from the dunes of the coast up to 1 600 ft. above sea level. They occupy an area of about 773 000 acres, and, either gathered in great numbers in contiguous belts or scattered among other crops, they extend over a great part of the whole Portuguese slope which gradually sinks in a south-easterly direction from a height of 6 500 ft. down to the level of the Atlantic. The Portuguese vineyards produce upwards of 154 000 000 gallons of wine, among which are some of the most famous wines of the world: Port, Madeira (1), Muscat of Setubal and Corcavelles, besides some excellent table wines such as Collares, Bucellos and Daô, and great quantities of wines for blending purposes. The yearly produce of the Portuguese vineyards is worth upwards of 20 000 000 escudos (about £4 000 000); it pays 30 000 000 days' work to the vineyard hands and provides the export trade with nearly 22 000 000 gallons of wines of all qualities worth about 8 000 000 escudos (about £1 600 000). This great national asset, now the same that it was before the invasion of phylloxera, has been reconstituted in the period of about 15 years of systematic and effective fighting against the pest, not including the period of the first feeble and hesitating efforts at the commencement of the invasion.

Phylloxera was introduced into Portugal about 1872 by some French stocks planted in a vineyard of Douro, the district which produces Port wine.

At first the invasion was slight and not alarming. The surface of the region being very broken and not having much intercourse with the other wine-growing districts, the pest remained for a fairly long time limited to the Douro region.

(1) In the Island of Madeira.

(Author's note).

Owing to the indifference with which the vine growers considered the new disease, the State agricultural officials encountered serious difficulties in their first attempts to control it. Up to 1886 the struggle against phylloxera was inefficient and desultory; in some districts the farmers would not believe in a possible destruction of their vineyards and by their incredulity favoured the spread of the pest, carelessly importing infected cuttings and plants and allowing them to circulate freely in the country.

The means of control employed in Portugal were the same as those used everywhere else. Sulphide of carbon was used at first in all treatments, both curative and destructive. On a lesser scale potassium sulpho-carbonate was also used. Several farmers had recourse to flooding, but this process was applied to a limited area, barely reaching 5 000 acres.

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To a greater extent planting in sandy soils was practised, and there are still some important vineyards on the sands of the coast and of the interior. The most extensive vineyard of Portugal and of the whole world, belonging to the great agriculturist José Maria des Santos is, for the greatest part of its considerable area II 115 acres — situated on sandy soils, and consists of ungrafted vines. This vineyard, which extends along a railway, affords a good demonstration of the efficaciousness of planting on sandy soils. The breaking up of the land before planting the vines, which was done by steam, caused a clayey subsoil to crop up in places near the middle of the vineyard. The first plantation having consisted entirely of ungrafted stocks, the vines planted on the clayey spots died of phylloxera in a short time, thus affording all those who travelled by that railway a convincing demonstration of the resistance to phylloxera of sandy soils, on which the great extent of the green foliage of the vines was barely spotted by the dead vines of the clay patches. This spectacle, however, did not last long because the vines on the clay spots were replaced by American stocks. The land, but slightly undulated, is constituted by very mobile tertiary lands, sometimes quick sands, resting on a clay subsoil over which there is a film of water, which, as is well known, still further increases the resistance of sand against the spreading of phylloxera.

Nevertheless the greatest aids to the reconstitution of the Portuguese vineyards were the American stocks upon which they are almost exclusively based.

In fact if the above mentioned plantations be excepted, namely those ungrafted ones that are protected by flooding or by their situation on sandy soils, it is difficult to find vineyards that are not completely infested by phylloxera in Algarve, the most southern province of the country, from the rest of which it is separated by a mountain range averaging about 2 000 ft. in height, and in the most northern province, Minho, where the vines being trained high resist longer, as is well known, the destructive action of the insect. All this however does not make up an area much above 197 000 acres actually under vines.

The first attempts at reconstituting with American stocks were not successful.

In 1880, M. Laliman, who played an important part in the reconstitution of the French vineyards, delivered a lecture at the Central Society of Agriculture of Portugal and found his audience incredulous and hostile to American stocks.

The want of success which attended the first attempts with American stocks is explained by the scanty knowledge the experimenters possessed of these vines, of the conditions required for their adaptation to the various soils, and of their affinity to the varieties of the country. To these reasons must be added the careless use of non-selected stocks and the want of skill in grafting.

The non-selected Jacquez, York Madeira, Herbemont, Taylor, and Solonis vines caused the failure of several plantations.

It was only later, towards 1888, when some reconstitutions on a grand scale had succeeded, that the reconstitution movement began to develop.

Already in 1895 the fears of a probable excess of production caused a congress of vine growers to be held at Lisbon! When confidence was reestablished, Portuguese vine-growers, by their initiative, diligence and outlay of capital, gave a great example of energy and of their capacity to act intelligently and rapidly.

With the exception of some errors of adaptation and the want of scruples of some nurserymen, it may be said that the reconstitution was perfect and its results excellent.

The present Portuguese vineyards are grafted on the American stocks Riparia and Rupestris and on some hybrids of Aramon Rupestris (Ganzin), Riparia X Rupestris No. 3306 and 3309 (Coudère) and No. 101-14 of Millardet.

By far the greater number of Portuguese vineyards include almost exclusively the pure species Riparia and Rupestris in their various forms; Riparias are especially represented by Riparia gloire de Montpellier in loamy soils, and the Rupestris by Rupestris monticola in heavy clay soils, and by Rupestris Martin on the stony and dry hillsides. Some vineyards in moist soils are grafted on Solonis and Solonis × Riparia. Nevertheless the results yielded by Solonis were very uncertain, according to the forms employed, and some plantations of Solonis in full vegetation were to be seen by the side of others showing but little vigour, while others again were already dead, according to the greater or lesser honesty of the nurserymen.

The reconstitution on calcareous soils is not a problem of very great importance in Portugal, as soils containing much lime or rich in limestone in a state of minute division occupy a very limited area. Soils with more than 10 per cent of limestone are rare.

Nevertheless on some of these soils Berlandieri and its hybrids with Vinifera have been employed. More frequently though, Aramon X Rupestris No. I of Ganzin and Rupestris Monticola, which possess sufficient resistance for most cases, are to be met with.

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