Pierre Galet, a French viticulturist, researcher and developer of the science of ampelogaphy, or identifying grapevine varieties by the shapes and patterns in their leaves, as well as petioles, cluster patterns and shoots, died on December 30th of a heart attack just before his 90th birthday. One of his students, viticulturist Lucie Morton based in Charlottesville, VA called his death “The end of an era.”

 Professor Pierre Galet in 2016

Galet taught at the University of Montpelier from 1946-1989. His works included a four-volume catalog of French winegrape varieties, a book on diseases of grapevines, and a world encyclopedia of winegrape varieties. His student Lucie Morton who also became a trained ampelographer, translated much of his work into English (most notably A Practical Ampelography in 1979 by Cornell Press), helping to bring his professional knowledge to North American and Australian and New Zealand readers.

Morton studied with Galet, who became her advisor, during her degree program at the University of Monteplier from 1973-74. As she recalled in an article in Wine Business Monthly’s 9/19 issue, “Galet drove very fast and that was scary. What I most remember about our first field trip, however, was his pointing out the window and saying, “Voilà,Mlle. Morton, un de vos compatriotes.” I saw no one and asked what he meant. He pointed out naturalized American species all along the road—much Rupestris du Lot and some Riparia Gloire in the low spots. This drive-by
botanical prowess impressed me and I vowed to learn how to recognize grapevines at 100+ km/hour.”

In 1990, Morton brought Galet to California to share his knowledge of ampelography and rootstock types with industry leaders. “We took some time to address the nomenclature confusion in U.S. rootstock plant material, including the SO4/5C mix up. This was the time period when the vinifera-rupestris rootstock AXR1, very widely planted in the North Coast, was beginning to fail [succumb to phylloxera]. Thus, interest was very high in what Galet had to say about both phylloxera and alternative rootstocks to AXR1,” explains Morton. By the mid-’90s, anything planted on AXR1 was being pulled out to be re-planted on more resistant rootstock.

In 2013, Galet was awarded the Commandeur de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole by the French government, in Bordeaux.

Morton had a reunion with Galet last March to collaborate  with cinematographer
Clotilde Verriès, who is filming a documentary on Galet’s life and work and
wanted to film him together with former students. “At 98 years old, Galet
was still typing away on his computer, compiling information on world Vitis
species in Latin, French and English,” recalls Morton.

Morton points out that she can use the methodical, empirical low-tech methodology of ampelography to distinguish between clones of the same grape variety, something that is not always possible to do with DNA sequencing.