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The "Father of Ampelography" Dies in France

by Linda Jones McKee
January 03, 2020


Dr. Pierre Galet, an internationally-known ampelographer, died on Monday, December 30, 2019 in Montpellier, France after suffering a heart attack. Born on January 28, 1921 in Monaco, Galet grew up in southern France and studied viticulture at the University of Montpellier. He started his teaching career at that University in 1946 and became the Maître-Assistant de Viticulture at Ecole Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Montpellier (ENSAM, now Montpellier SupAgro).

His first book on ampelography, Précis d’ampélographie pratique, was published in 1952 and received the Grand Prix Universitaire de la Foire internatiolnale de la Vigne et du Vin. Galet expanded the Précis into a 3,500 page, four-volume work, Cépages et vignobles de France (Varieties and Vineyards of France) which was published between 1956 and 1964. His descriptions of grapevines were based not on the fruit clusters but on the shoots and leaves of the vines and concentrated on the leaf structure and the hairiness of the growing tips.

A new edition of the Précis came out in 1968 and a third edition in 1971. The fourth edition, published in 1976, was the basis in 1979 for A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification, the translation and adaptation of Galet’s work by Lucie Morton, his first American student in 1973-74 and now an internationally recognized ampelographer and consultant. For the first time, Galet’s “methods for grapevine identification together with his descriptions of commercially important American and European grape varieties and rootstocks” were available to English-speaking growers and students. A fifth edition of the Précis was published in 1988.

Galet traveled widely to wine regions in Europe, Australia, North Africa, South America, Asia and the United States, in part to identify grape varieties and to help settle legal disputes concerning those varieties. Galet made three trips to the U.S. between 1980 and 1990, accompanied by Morton. The first included California, Texas and the Eastern U.S. from Florida to Ontario; the second, in 1985 was a research tour to search for Vitis rupestris in the Midwest and V. Berlandieri in the Davis Mountains in California; the third, in 1990, included seminars and lectures, primarily in California (see “A Tribute to Pierre Galet, Master Ampelographer and Mentor," Wine Business Monthly, September, 2019).

The recipient of numerous awards, Galet was awarded the Grand Prix de l’Office International de la Vigne et du Vin in 1963, became an Officier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole, and received special recogonition by the L’Office national interprofessionnel des vins (OIV) in 1983. More recently, he was awarded the Commandeur de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole at Vinitech in 2013 in Bordeaux.

Galet’s work continues to be useful, even in today’s world of computers and DNA testing. As Morton stated, classic ampelography can be used “to distinguish between clones of the same variety, something that is not always possible to do with DNA sequencing.”

Galet was predeceased by his wife Yvette and is survived by three sons and six grandchildren. His research, books and files have been preserved in the library of the Pierre Galet Center for Alpine Ampelography at the Musée Régional de la Vigne et du Vin in Montméliain, France.


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