As the resident wine gal for the Brand Action Team I get a LOT of travel perks. Despite our remote location in Avon, CT I quite often find myself in major US cities for events and tastings and, oh right, in Europe.
Most recently, I've returned from a press trip to Santorini, Greece, which just so happens to be one of my favorite places in the world.
We had a fantastic group! Joe and Amy Corron Power of Another Wine Blog, Joe Roberts of 1 Wine Dude, Elin McCoy of Bloomberg News, among other publications, were the stars of this trip, each eager to learn about Santorini's unique terroir and flagship grape, Assyrtiko.
We returned this past Saturday, all about five pounds heavier (from all of the food) and with a solid appreciation of the wine culture of Santorini.
Here's a little about Santorini you may not know:
Santorini's soil consists of basault due to a volcanic eruption in 1600 B.C. As a result, it has no clay and imparts unique salient and mineral influence due to the close proximity to the sea. Because there is no clay in the soil Santorini is immune to Phylloxera thus requiring no grafting of the vines and many of the roots of the vines date back to thousands of years ago. The vines are not grown in any particularly orderly fashion and many times several varietals are grown on the same plots. Because of the influence of tourism and spacing issues, plots are sporadically placed throughout the island.
Grapes grown on Santorini are just now beginning to be grown in other parts of the world, but are indigenous to the ialdnd. They include the flagship Assyrtiko grape, Aidani, Athiri and 37 other varieties that make up for very a small percentage of the island’s production.
Because of the intense heat and harsh winds on the island, the vines are woven into a basket as they grow known as the “kouloura” method. The grapes are then grown inside the protection of the basket and leaf covering. Each vine ages to be about 75-100 years old at which time the woven vine generally becomes to large to adequately supply nutrients throughout the rest of the vine. The vine is then cut and a baby vine is attached to the old roots beginning the cycle over again.
The grapes are generally harvested in mid- to late August, which is much earlier than the rest of the world. The island is rather small and hosts only 10 major wineries and, in total, vines cover less than 48,000 hectares making production rather limited.
Santorini is also known for it’s sweet wine, Vinsanto, which by appellation standards can only be named as such if it consists of predominantly Assyrtiko. Only Aidani and Athiri are allowed to be blended with Assyrtiko and it must be done so prior to fermentation. Vinsanto is made from sundried grapes that typically sit in the sun for 14+ days and must be aged at least 2 years in barrel before release. Joe Power absolutely fell in LOVE with sweet wines!
Although many believe Vinsanto originated in Italy, truth by told Vinsanto (vin de Santorini) was originally exported to Italy by Santorini. Although both wines are made through a raisoning method, only Santorin’s Vinsanto is crafted through sundried grapes. In ancient times, Italy imported Santorini’s Vinsanto to use in religious ceremonies such as communion. Italy has, however, developed its own style with the use of other grapes and drying techniques.
Because of their acidity, the wines of Santorini have incredible agining potential. We tasted some Assyrtiko wines from the 1990s and their development was incredible – natural smokey character from the soil coming through, but still hosting the bright acidity, citrus and minerality of young Assyrtiko. Similarly, Vinsanto can age for decades becoming more complex each time.
Overall, the island’s beauty has captivated the hearts of many over the past few decades because of it’s picturesque views and the overall feeling of paradise, but Santorini really is a wine island. The wines from Santorini are often threatened by the increase in tourism as many would prefer to use the land for hotels and other attractions. However, wine is also becoming an importent part of this tourism and in the next few years to come it is estimated production will grow and Santorini’s ancient wine culture will erupt throughout the world.
SO there you have it. Santorini's wine culture in a nut shell. Stay tuned to Joe, Joe, Amy and Elin's posts and columns in the next couple of weeks to learn what thrilled them, shocked them and persuaded them to become true Wines from Santorini fans ;)