When Napoleon III proclaimed himself Emperor of France in 1852, he unwittingly kickstarted quality wine production in Chile and Argentina. A mass exodus of republicans ensued, one of whom happened to be a skilled agronomist from Tours named Michel Aimé Pouget. Pouget carried with him a cache of French grape cuttings that were to change the course of wine history and formed the basis for Argentina’s wine industry today.
Because of the phylloxera plague, French wine production fell by 75 per cent between 1875 and 1889. Today the vines of Europe are still grafted on to phylloxera-resistant American root stock. In Argentina and Chile, which have no phylloxera, old ungrafted European vines are flourishing. Malbec, a grape often maligned in its native land, triumphed 6,000 miles away, where it ripens easily.