South Africa’s phylloxera outbreak was initially tackled by grafting its grapevines onto a Jacquez s

2016-10-06 09:31

South Africa's phylloxera outbreak was initially tackled by grafting its sensitive grapevines onto a Jacquez seedling of the original Madeira Jacquez (Jacquet), which was propagated by descendants of the French Huguenots living in the Cévennes region in southeastern France. That original Madeira Jacquez has also been found in northern Italy (Piedmont region) where it is known as Barbera paesana (peasant's Barbera).

Contribution by the French Huguenots…

After the 1685 revocation of the 'Edict of Nantes', a handful of French Huguenot settlers (approximately 180) arrived in South Africa. These were only a fraction of the large-scale Protestant emigrants who fled France as a result of religious persecution. However, after the 'Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen' in 1789, Protestants regained equal rights as citizens of France.

South Africa’s wine culture is believed to have taken off after the arrival of those early French settlers in 1688, because they were skilled in winemaking. Most of the emigrating Huguenots originated from the southern and southeastern regions of France. As already mentioned, one of those regions was the Cévennes which forms part of the Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées (now officially known as the Occitania province).

Some of the French Huguenots who had settled in the southern or southeastern American colonies would soon be returning to their motherland towards the end of the 18th century for various reasons. One of the most compelling reasons for their returning to their country was because of the continuous failures that they experienced in trying to propagate the European grapevines in those American colonies.

In 1892 Mr. T.V. Munson, the famous Texas viticulturist and hybridizer, wrote a letter to a Mr. Gougie Bourquin to enquire about the origin of two grape varieties which he had growing in his garden, called the "Brown French" and the "Blue French". In his response to Munson’s query, Bourquin stated that both the Brown and the Blue French grapes (identified by Munson as the Herbemont and Lenoir cultivar, respectively) had been growing in Georgia (American colony) for about 150 years and that it had originated from southern France. He was adamant that they were brought to Savannah, Georgia, by his French Huguenot ancestors. If that were true then it would imply that those hybrid grapes were imported from France around 1742, which, although possible, is highly unlikely for a number of logistical reasons.

On the contrary, it is conceivable that the Blue French to which Bourquin was referring, was actually the original Jacquez hybrid grape cultivar (i.e. not the Lenoir) that found its way to the Madeira Islands sometime in the 18th century.

The continuous failures in growing Vitis vinifera varieties in America was to be a great disappointment to many a French Huguenot. As a result, some Huguenots decided to leave America and go back to Europe. Some French Huguenots may have wanted to return to France but would have been unwelcomed there. So, logically, those returning Huguenots would opt to remain on the Madeira Islands because the Portuguese government was more tolerant of Protestants than the French government. Furthermore, those French Huguenots could at least temporarily eke out a decent living doing what they knew best, namely, working in the wine industry in Madeira. Some Huguenots may have taken cuttings of that original Jacquez (Blue French) hybrid with them to Madeira because they knew that the Jacquez was resistant to many natural diseases of the vine. Moreover, grape farmers had been fascinated by the apparent resemblance of the Jacquez leaf shape and that of European vinifera grapevines. It is postulated that the Blue French grapevine was renamed to Jacquet (or Jaquê in Portuguese).

One can now imagine that after the Declaration of Human Rights in 1789 in France, many French Huguenots decided that it was now safe enough to return to their motherland. It is assumed that some of those Huguenots then left Madeira and made their way back to the Cévennes or other regions in southeastern France from whence they had originally fled to America. They would have resettled in the Cèvennes (and other southeastern regions e.g. Ardèche) in the closing years of the 18th century. Again, we shall assume that they would have brought with them some of the original Jacquet cuttings and would have successfully propagated some of those cuttings in the Cévennes region.

It is interesting to note that Jacquet was still being cultivated in the Cévennes in the 1960's, having survived there for over 140 years, despite the presence of phylloxera. However, because certain American grape varieties (e.g. Jacquez, Clinton etc.) were officially banned in France in 1935, they are being gradually replaced by classical French vines grafted onto more highly resistant 100% American hybrid rootstocks.

Microsatellite DNA fingerprint analysis…

From a microsatellite DNA analysis (Simple Sequence Repeats or SSR's) conducted on a South African Jacquez (origin: Madeira), it appears that it was not the original Madeira Jacquet cultivar that survived through the phylloxera epidemic in the Cévennes. The cultivar that survived through the phylloxera epidemic in the Cévennes is now assumed to be a different 'Jacquez seedling' cultivar that was also deployed here in South Africa as a successful rootstock for over 60 years. The microsatellite DNA analysis shows that this Jacquez seedling (see Jacquez accession AUT024-169 below) was derived from a self-pollinated Jacquez vine (i.e. the original Madeira Jacquet) and was most likely selected by some knowledgeable grape farmer. So, logically, the selection of that seedling likely took place in the Cévennes region itself during the oïdium or the phylloxera crisis in the mid 1800’s.

Enter Baron Carl von Babo…

South African historical records show that while phylloxera was decimating French vineyards, the Cape Colony was preparing contingency plans to try to avoid a similar viticultural disaster to that which was unfolding in Europe. In 1884, Baron Carl von Babo, a viticulturist who came from the famous viticultural school at Klosterneuberg, Austria, was appointed viticulturist and chief wine expert to the government of the Cape Colony. His job was to reorganize the wine industry because they believed he had an international reputation. He was also appointed manager of the government wine farm at Groot Constantia until 1887, which was to be converted into a viticultural research school. He soon compiled his 'Report on Viticulture in the Cape Colony' which was published in Cape Town in 1885. The government of the Cape Colony heeded the sound advice of Carl von Babo, which was “…not to import any vine material from Europe under any circumstances whatsoever”. However, no sooner had von Babo published his report, the Cape Colony suffered a severe setback the following year as a result of the discovery that the phylloxera aphid had invaded some local vineyards in Mowbray in the Cape.

It is very likely that Baron von Babo was aware of an earlier relevant article published in California's Pacific Rural Press (vol. 18 no. 14 - October 1879) which contained extracts from an official report made by Dr. A. Menudier of the National Superior Commission on Phylloxera. The commission had been created in 1871 by the French government in order to survey the extent of the phylloxera damage and to report on its findings.  Dr. Menudier mentioned the following: "... For 14 or 15 years past, in the départments of Gard (which includes a region of the Cévennes) and Gironde (near Bordeaux), the stock called the "Jacquez" has resisted very well, in the midst of the phylloxera's ravages, and given good yields long after the native stocks have succumbed."

As early as the 1870’s the Viticultural Research Facility in Montpellier, France, had already subjected many of the 100% American hybrid rootstocks to grafted field trials. The most effective American species showing great resistance to the phylloxera included Vitis riparia, Vitis rupestris and Vitis berlandieri, or hybrids of these. However, the main problem was that the replanting of many of the phylloxera-devastated vineyards in the Cape was delayed by shortages of the new American rootstocks and some vineyards were not replanted at all.

Another potential problem with regard to the grafting of European grapevines onto some of those American hybrids, at least in Europe, was that the grafted plants often showed lime-induced iron-deficiency chlorosis (a yellowing of the leaves, sometimes followed by the eventual death of the plants) as a result of the relatively higher limestone content of French soils compared to the natural acidic soils from where most of the American species had originated.

The Cape Colony now urgently needed to protect its grapevines by grafting them onto some type of American rootstocks, as this method of protection was proving to be successful in many parts of Europe. In 1891 Baron von Babo advised the government of the Cape Colony to import the so-called Old World Franco-American hybrid rootstocks (as opposed to the 100% American rootstocks) for grafting purposes. That consignment of rootstock cuttings included hybrids such as Jacquez and another ancient clone of Jacquez called Herbemont. For a long time now, Jacquez (and Herbemont) is believed to be a natural hybrid of Vitis aestivalis x Vitis cinerea x Vitis vinifera.

The important role played by Klosterneuburg, Austria…

It has now transpired that the father of Baron Carl von Babo was Baron August Wilhelm von Babo, a viticulturist, who had founded the famous Klosterneuburg Viticultural School in Klosterneuburg, just north of Vienna, Austria in 1860 and was its director from that time until 1893. He was, at that time, also considered to be the best authority on wine in Europe. No doubt, Baron Carl von Babo consulted his father on many viticultural issues at that time, and probably received very sound advice from him.

The first American hybrid grapevines to arrive in Austria in the 1890's in the wake of the phylloxera outbreak were the Old World Hybrids such as Clinton, Jacquez and Herbemont etc.

Some of those rootstocks were propagated on an experimental vineyard called the "Schwarze Kreuz" ('Black Cross') which was affiliated to the School of Viticulture at Klosterneuburg.

Until now, no one was certain from where, exactly, did the 'Jacquez' rootstocks come from, that were imported into the Cape Colony in 1891. We now suspect that this batch of Jacquez rootstocks was, most likely, procured by von Babo via his connections with Klosterneuburg. There is an 'Austrian Jacquez' accession (existing grapevine collection) that is presently being curated at that Viticultural School in Austria which, in German, is called Höhere Bundeslehranstalt und Bundesamt für Wein- und Obstbau.

That particular Jacquez cultivar has been tagged with the accession number AUT024-169 and its microsatellite DNA data is presently available from the European Vitis Database (


That Jacquez seedling cultivar which can be found in the Austrian accession is, most likely, the same one that has survived for so long in the Cévennes region in France and that was imported into South Africa to become the most successful rootstock here before it was eventually replaced by the 100% American hybrid rootstocks in the 1960's.

Finally, it is noteworthy that the war against the phylloxera outbreak was initially fought in South Africa by grafting its sensitive grapevine cultivars, not onto the original Madeira Jacquet rootstock, but onto a seedling of that original Madeira Jacquet which is also known as Barbera paesana in Italy. Therefore I have decided to refer to that particular Jacquet seedling as the Jacquez Cévennes seedling, or simply, the Cévennes Jacquez (accession AUT024-169).

We are now aware of three Jacquez seedlings all of which were derived from self-pollinated (self-fertilized) Madeira Jacquet.  It is important to note that the Jacquez Cévennes seedling is not the same as the two 'sibling seedlings' now known to be the Lenoir and Black Spanish presently being cultivated in Texas, USA.

Additional information…

For an introduction to the original Madeira Jacquez and Jacquez seedlings please follow my article which was published in MyNews24 on the 17 August 2016 at the following URL address:

An interesting overview on the Jacquez seedlings and a basic introduction to Microsatellite DNA fingerprint technology may be found at my 'Sourgrapes' website:

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