The terroirs of Santorini, where microclimates vary from one area to the other, can provide unique and exceptional "interpretations" of the Assyrtiko variety and other local varieties of grapes and thus wines with a high level of quality with worldwide recognition. The transition from the traditional way of winemaking into a more serious process, respecting nature and its product, allowed us to have particularly interesting, and often exciting, Santorini wines for years, slowly making the Appellation of Origin Santorini, and mainly Assyrtiko, the only Greek winemaking area and the unique Greek wines - benchmarks for Greece.
It's incredible how old the history of the vineyard of Santorini is. It is literally lost in the mists of prehistory, since the excavations in the prehistoric and preserved site at Akrotiri have shown that vines were cultivated there since at least the 17th century BC. But this prehistoric vineyard was not going to live long, as the huge eruption in the 16th century BC destroyed everything. The cultivation was resumed in Santorini by the Phoenicians, who first settled in Santorini after the disaster. But to be perfectly accurate, we can only talk about real and systematic viticulture after 1200 BC.
Since 1840 a French priest-traveller did mention: "the hilly slopes of the island, full of vines." Really, except for its age the vineyard of Santorini is also one of the most unique phenomena in the world, like many others in the magical island of Cyclades which is loaded with energy. In both arid and dry soil the vine (along with fava beans, cherry tomatoes and some other crops) can exist because it can withstand the drought but also because the roots of very old vines not only penetrate the volcanic soils but spread their roots deep inside the earth.
Vine cultivation and wine production is linked to the history of Santorini, its culture and its economy. It is lost as deep in time as deep in the ground the roots of the vine are found. There was in fact a time that the production of wine was so great that a very large part of it was exported abroad. It was however-at least in modern terms- the prehistory of Therian wine, because the methods and winemaking techniques, along with the opinions about wine, seem outdated, inadequate, and without particularly great ambitions or references to the great wines of the world.
The basket-like way of pruning and "winding" the vines which is called "kouloura" is due to the harsh weather conditions that have always existed on the island, the dry and inhospitable volcanic soil and mainly the very strong wind. Thus the "kouloures"-vineyards of Santorini were invented whose cultivation is just as difficult and painful as the vines in the vertical slopes of the valley of the river Moselle in Germany. But what wonderful wines do they both produce! And how a properly aged Assyrtiko from Santorini resembles an aged German Riesling with its crystal clarity and electric-sharp acidity.
Τhe vineyard of Santorini, that has avoided the devastating phylloxera due to the synergy of all the parameters, is one of the oldest vineyards of Europe. Fortunately, nature has blessed it and although the volcanic soils of the island with the strong winds create very inhospitable conditions and a completely dry environment, ... almost miraculously, the soil retain underground the water from the limited rainfall. And in the summer, the precious water resurfaces and cools the vines with the drops from the fog clouds which, like a veil of cotton, so often cover the island. In August, the strong winds that sweep the island from one end to the other remove the moisture from the grapes, thus avoiding the rot and the challenge of vine diseases.
Αpproximately 7000 acres of Assyrtiko are cultivated and vinified, followed by the Aidani and other, red and white, grape varieties, including the excellent Mavrotragano. The arid-dry soil, suitable for viticulture of wine grape varieties, is of volcanic origin and sandy composition, so they present the properties and features mentioned. The very low levels of potassium in the soil of Santorini, along with its very low fertility, appears to be behind the characteristic acidity of Assyrtiko wines -which not only electrify the senses, but offers great gusto and interest to the wine, giving the possibility of very long aging.
The yields in the vineyards of Santorini are incredibly low and do not exceed 300-350 kg per acre, creating one more condition for producing fine wine. The harvest in Santorini, as in other regions of Greece, starts early - around the first 10 days of August. This was the context in which the rebirth of the Santorini vineyard occurred as well as the appearance of exquisite wines which have become known throughout the world.