History of Wine
Santorini is the oldest vineyard in Europe. It is actually the only one that continuously produces grapes for more than 3000 years. Sounds fake but let`s see why.
The first inhabitants of Santorini arrived on the island around 3000 BC. It was a very advanced civilization, as they lived in two and three-story houses, had storage rooms, drainage systems etc. What is important is that they also appreciated wine. And they produced wined back then.
The vineyards of Santorini were all destroyed when the island was buried under a thick layer of lava during the Minoan Eruption of 1640 BC. A new soil was created around 1200 BC. After that, and over the years, different inhabitants tried to cultivate a variety of plants in Santorini. However, grapes were the only ones that survived.
An insect called phylloxera came to Europe roughly around the 19th century and destroyed every vineyard. Only a few vines remained, like the one in Etna (Italy) and the one here in Santorini (Greece). In the case of Santorini, the grapes survived due to one simple fact. Santorini soil mostly consists of pumice, lava and volcanic ash, which made it impossible for phylloxera to survive.
Why are vines in Santorini shaped this way
This way of pruning is ancient and unique and was developed based on the climate conditions and equipment old farmers had available back in the day. The sandy soil, in combination with the strong winds during spring and the sunlight during summertime would make it impossible for any typical vine to survive. Pruning the vine like a basket “shelters” the grapes that grow on the inside of that basket and ensures they are protected against the wind and the sun. This basket is also known as “kouloura”.
How do we water the grape
Actually we don’t. And this just another factor that makes Santorini vineyards so unique. There is no irrigation. Well, there might be in some vineyards, but it is mostly for young vines. In any other case, nature is taking care of the required humidity. How does that work?
Well, the climate in Santorini is Mediterranean with mild winters and cool summers. There are strong north winds during the summer that could last for more than a month. The evaporation of sea water, often covers the island with mist so this is an easy way for the vines to get some water.
Still, it is not enough so as we say the roots are getting stressed which then leads to stronger and more concentrated taste of the local wines.
Varieties of wine
Santorini Asyrtico Wine
As I`m always saying, it all starts from the soil. Nowadays we can find Asyrtico cultivated in quite many other parts of Greece as well as Australia but wines made from this Santorini grapes have three major characteristics:
- High Minerality
- High Acidity
- High Alcohol
As simple as that and always depending on the wine making process, Asyrtico can give us aromas that no other grape can. Stainless steel fermentation is filling up the palate with sharpness minerality and crispiness as well as some citrus aromas versus oak fermentation that brings out smoky aromas, dry fruit and nutty taste.
Santorini Nychteri Wine
Another typical Santorini wine is called Nychteri. Nychteri comes from the word “Nychta” and means “night” in Greek. In the past, they were peaking the grapes during daytime and pressing them at night trying to take advantage of the lower temperatures. It`s quite different nowadays.
For Nychteri, farmers make a late harvest so that grapes start getting dehydrated which then leads to a higher sugar content. They actually need these sugars to be converted into alcohol because this type of wine must contain a minimum of 13% vol or 26 proof.
Santorini Vinsanto Wine
Apart from the dry wines, Santorini is also famous for the sweet ones. I`m not a dessert wine person myself, but in that case I wouldn’t say no to a glass of Vinsanto, the typical sweet wine of Santorini. The sugar content of this wine sounds like a nightmare to people who don`t like sweet wines or to those who are on a diet. Vinsanto has roughly 220gr of sugar in each liter- but again this is where Asyrtico makes a difference. Due to its high acidity, it balances the feeling of the sweetness in the Vinsanto.
Grapes that are meant to make Vinsanto, will be late harvested – way more than the ones that are used for Nychteri Wine- and will then be left in the sun for more dehydration and for the sugar content to rise. This process varies between wine makers, so very simply the more they stay in the sun the higher the sugar. That is why there are some Vinsantos that reach almost 300 gr/liter! After fermentation, Vinsanto ages in oak for a minimum of 2-3 years.
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