Santorini wine history
The ancient civilization of Santorini was completely destroyed by a catastrophic volcanic explosion that occurred sometime between 1620-1640, BC. With every trace of life gone, all that remained was covered with volcanic ash, lava and pumice stone, which eventually lead to the creation of a compact soil, called "aspa". It was in Santorini that archaeologists discovered the ancient village of Acrotiri, the oldest and best-preserved bronze-age village in Europe. The archaeologists unearthed a great deal of evidence here that indicated the existence of viniculture and winemaking as far back as the Bronze Age. They found carbonized grape seeds, drawings that included evidence of vine cultivation and winemaking as well as numerous amphorae that were used to store the wine. Ironically, it was the "aspa" created from the volcanic lava that preserved this ancient era in Greek Civilization for future generations to study. According to written records, the vineyard of Santorini is the original one planted after the eruption of the volcano making it one of the oldest in Europe and a priceless part of the European viticultural heritage. The vineyards are all on original stock and are planted with many of the ancient varieties such as Athiri, Assyrtiko and Mandelaria.
The porous volcanic soil of Santorini allows the earth to retain water, giving the vineyards the ability to stay nourished during the high summer temperatures. During the hot Greek summer, rains are extremely rare and the only source of water for the vineyards is the nocturnal fogs.
After the evening sun sets the island becomes enveloped in a fog that comes in from the sea. The vines are able to retain the water they need from this evening fog and use it during the warm daylight hours when it is needed most. Santorini was also one of the rare wine-making areas in the world not attacked by phylloxera, because of the high content of sand found in volcanic soil. Because of their resistance to phylloxera, most of the picturesque vineyards that cover the island are more than 100 years old and retain their original root stocks.
Every trace of life on this enchanting island is found on the top of an impressive rock. The winds saturate the island throughout the year. The only way for the grapes to survive from the direct exposure of sun and strong winds is to be protected inside low-basket-shaped vines, the "ampelies", as they are called locally forming a unique pruning system. The refreshing northerly winds that blow from July to September, known as the "meltemia", also help keep the vines from developing the numerous fungi that can result from the combination of summer heat and humidity.
Today 14,000.000 sq m of vineyards are planted in Santorini. 20% of the vineyards are planted with the red grapes Mandelaria and Mavrotragano and the rest with the white grapes Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aedani as well as some Platani, Potamisi, Gadouria and Glikada. The most dominant of the white grapes in Santorini is the Assyrtiko in part because of its multipurpose characteristics. The yield in Santorini is also characteristically low with an average of 200-250kg per 1000 sq m.
The different wines of Santorini owe their special qualities to the unique geology of Santorini. The soil is rich in inorganic ingredients, but very poor in organic ingredients. It consists of cinders, rust, lava and pumice stone. Unfortunately, the older age of most of the vineyards, as well as the strong winds that blow year round, seriously reduce the volume of wine crop that can be grown. In addition, the highly developed and much more profitable tourist industry has driven many of the farmers to abandon their vineyards and become involved with tourism. It may be in the years to come that we will only be able to find the most hardy and passionate of farmers that are dedicated to their vineyards and are willing to continue the tradition.