Wine on Santorini — Meant to Be

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Evidence of wine production in Santorini dates back to 3500 B.C., but it was not until after the Caldera-forming Minoan eruption 20 centuries later that gave the island it’s unique environmental and geological characteristics that make the wine cultivation so unique. The rich soil that fuels over 10% of the island’s economy is known as “Aspa”, which is mainly composed of the porous volcanic rock called pumice, along with the volcanic ash from this explosive eruption.(1) The lack of clay in the soil make Santorini one of the few areas in the world not affected by the devastating Phylloxera pest, who depends on a high clay content to survive. Without the volcanic/tectonic influence on Santorini’s soil, wine cultivation on this Mediterranean island would have never made it through the 19th century. (3)

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Vineyards in general need a large amount of water to thrive, so at first it’s a wonder how the island was able to consistently produce grapes when it gets less than 15 inches of rain per year, most of which are during the winter months. Conveniently, the composition of pumice is very porous which makes it able to hold and store moisture for the roots to feed on long after rainfall.(4) Even though rain is minimal during the summer, the environment is once again in favor of continuing the local grapes’ longevity; heavy sea fog rolls in from the Mediterranean and condenses to mist as it reaches land. This mist saturates the grape vines and porous soil to give the grapes the moisture it needs to last through the warm summer days.(2)

Heavy winds are a regular occurrence here on Santorini, which make the grapes prone to damage from the lightweight pumice that is easily blown off the surface of the soil. In order to help prevent this, the local farmers use what is called the “Koulara” technique to help protect the fragile fruit.(4) This technique involves continuously wrapping the grape vines in a circular pattern so that the grapes grow on the inside of the structure and therefore are protected from the the majority of the wind-blown pumice that would normally damage the grapes. The plant is also grown very close to the ground to help mitigate wind damage, which gives it the form of a bush compared to the tree-like appearance that we see in traditional vineyards.(1)

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Even though Santorini only produces 400 kilograms of grapes per square thousand feet compared to the 3000-4000 kilograms produced by the average vineyard, it still remains to be the islands largest cash crop.(4) With the heavy winds and minimal amount of rain during the summer, It seems that wine production on Santorini wasn’t meant to be. But being balanced out by the fertile volcanic soil and natural elements that help the plant thrive, it seems that Santorini will never stop this 5000 year old tradition. At least until the next eruption…

 

 

Sources

1. “Wines from Santorini-The soil known as Aspa”. 2 June 2010. winesfromsantorini.wordpress.com

2.  Santorini Wine History. 4 June 2014. http://www.travel-to-santorini.com

3. Grape Phylloxera-The world’s worst grapevine pest. http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/116402/Grape-Phylloxera-the-worlds-worst-grapevine-pest.pdf

4. Koutsoyannopolous- Santorini Wine Museum

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6 thoughts on “Wine on Santorini — Meant to Be”

  1. Thanks Joe for your entry! I actually wish that you included more about your findings, the vines, and why the wine production caught your attention so. Have you tried the wine? Are you bringing any home?

    Pumice and water retention is something new that I had not heard about. As you probably know, in Flagstaff, any information on organic materials that hold on to moisture is valued information. Any pumice will do? I can see an upcoming visit to Sunset Crater if your answer is yes.

    Take good notes as I hope you and your classmates will agree to host a presentation on your experiences and findings here at NAU in early Fall. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Visiting Santorini’s wine museum definitely sparked my interest for this post, as well as giving me new angles to present in the blog post.
      Unfortunately, you will not find any pumice in the sunset crater area or anywhere in Arizona. Pumice is only formed during a volcanic eruption in which water is present in the volcanic vent. But I like your outgoing attitude.. I’m sure pumice soil is available to be shipped via mail to you if you’d like to try it out in your garden 🙂
      Thanks for your response on my post, I appreciate it.

  2. It is very well written and informative. Be careful with stating that the soil fuels 10% of the economy as it is assisting in the production of the grapes that are used in the top 3 wineries that make up 10% of the economy. I like how in depth you were when describing how the pumice retains water so well.

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