[Wine] Santorini-vinyard history

ssmith wineforum-user at winehq.org
Wed Jul 20 08:52:41 CDT 2011

1600 BCE, the Egyptian dynasty at Thebes was in full flow, the seas were ruled by the Minoans of the Mediterranean. The culture of the Mycenaean civilization that became the great state of Greece was moving upward in the Peloponnese peninsula.
In the south of modern day greece in the Aegean sea the small society of Minoans that lived from the shores of the volcanic island islands fled for their lives. The once friendly mountain that sheltered them was clearly no longer to be trusted.
While the volcano belched smoke and shook the Minoans fled in boats ,nearly everyone left the villages behind, nets drying on the piers, goats penned in, tatty grapvines adapted to the hot climate and windy slopes. 
The eruption that was witnessed by the few that managed to get away far enough and was second in size to Krakatoa, the incomprehensible power caused total destruction.
A gaping hole in the ocean was all that was left after  the destruction to what was once a cone shaped round island. Lava oozed up from the sunken hole 1300feet deep encase in volcanic stones and ash. 
A tsunami wave estimated to be between 115 and 490 high devastated the Minoan cities. If the city of Atlantis actually existed it is rumoured that the tsunami was the cause of its destruction.
The few survivors fled for their lives amidst the rocks and ash raining down. This was more than likely the end of the Minoan civilizations authough experts are divided as to how much was down to the eruption and subsequent tsunami.
A few centuries later some brave Mycenean settlers made their way to the island to set up camp, they built a small port on the slopes of caldera.
Whilst exploring the desert like terrain with its steep cliffs they found the remaining survivors of the eruption:grapvines that despite their fate managed to continue their existence within the volcanic soils. With very little rainfall, harsh winds that envelope the island for many months of the year .The vines were able to drain enough moisture and minerals from the ash and porous volcanic rock to survive against all odds.
The next few thousand years taught the islands residents how to nurture the grapes and cultivate them in the harshest grape growing environment in the world.
The venetians busied themselves establishing their vanquishing of the Mediterranean in the first millennium of the common era, they renamed the island Santorini  after the Saint Irene, those ragged grape vines changed the fate of the small island forever. The primary functions of the island were its trading port in the midst of the Agean sea and its dark amber coloured sweet wine known to the venetians and the rest of the Mediterranean as Vinsanto.
The more recently developed Vin Santo of Tuscany’s naming was influenced by the Santorini Vinsanto. It made the island and the controlling venetians quite rich. Similar to its more modern cousins Constantia and Tokaji , Vinsanto was one of the worlds most famous wines for several centures, gracing the lips of popes, monarchs and the uber rich in the ancient world.
Santorini today boasts one of the longest continuous histories of grape wine cultivation in the world. Little has changed in how grapes are grown and cultivated on the island for many thousands of years thanks to the adverse weather conditions and the relatively remote nature of the islands small population.
Unlike any other vineyards in the world Santorini barely look like the traditional orderly style of vineyards as we know them in the rest of the world. 
When in bloom most santorini vineyards look like overgrown abandoned plots with rugged serpentine vines sprawled on the ground in lumps and wavy scraggles of leaves.If you did not know you would believe it is all just weeds.
The disorder of these low laying entangled vines contradicts the complex viniculture that has been perfected through the centures.
There are no trellises as vines and their fruit need protecting from the brutal winds .Instead the grapevines grow directly on the flattened pumice, salt, and ash that are the components of the infertile land of the desert island. Winegrowers use a unique method of training the vines into a Koulura,a basket shape to protect them even further.
The coil edges act as a wind breaker and a host of shady leaves protect against the harsh sunlight, the harvests produced are naturally restricted by both the spirals and the extreme weather conditions.
The Santorini vineyards are unique not only for their appearance and training. The remoteness of the island and the soils has meant that Phylloxera can never take hold. Each and every vine in sustained by its own roots. Most are established from the simple method of vine propogation, taking the tip of a vine runner and plunging it into the soil where it will eventually grow roots and sprout into a vine separate from the mother vine.
The vines have never been irrigated; water is a precious commodity on the island and too precious to waste on the ever thirsty vines. Like all other vegetation on the island the grapes must take their water from the air and ground. The main source of moisture comes from the sea mists that drift by night across the island to be sucked up by the thirsty leaves and porous pumice stones. 
The vines on the island bear mainly the Santorini white grapes.Dominated by Assyrtiko (ah-SEER-tee-koh), with lesser amounts of Athiri (ah-THEER-ee) and Aidani (eye-DAHN-ee). A few red varieties are also grown, the vast majority of which are Mavrotragano (mah-vroh-TRAH-gah-no) and Mandilaria (mahn-dee-LAH-ree-ah).
The most amazing facet of santorini viticulture is their age,some of the vineyards are between 200 and 500 years old.
The baskets develop and grow thicker with on going growth added to them, eventually the grapes grow as far as many meters from the vine trunk which pushes the moisture and nutrients along the coil to ripen the grapes.This leads to the yields being rather miniscule. The result of this is that every 75 to 85 years the growers on the island cut down the baskets leaving only a stump to generate new shoots from the stump that is left sticking out of the ground,these shoots are wound into the start of the basket and the process starts again.
Many of the vineyards familys have records showing 4 or 5 prunings such as this. Those vines are still 
The farms are all family run with the average farmer 65,there does not seem a surge of young generation farmers eager to become to future wine makers. The vineyards are mostly contracted to working vineries as is commonplace in other wine regions around the world, with the exception thatr the harvests are usually done by family and friends as they are the people who know how to do it.

The average size of a plot on the island is only around 1.3 hectares or about 3 acres.There are 1000 different farmers on the island. The vineyards are divided into a patchwork similar to that in Burgundy that similarly has a history of farmers living in adjacent plots with mad old political rules between farmers . New plantations are unheard of and the old ones rarely change hands.
One thing for sure are the wines of santorini are remarkable and uniquely compelling,somehow managing to match the amazing beauty of the island.

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