In 1840, French traveler Abba Pegues wrote: “Santorini offers an exciting variety of contrasts: the volcanic and rocky mountains, half-cultivated and half-flared rocks, some beautiful and others awful. They are the great gulches shredding the valleys and the fertile slopes, full of vines. They are the neighborhood of the sea embracing the island like a huge valley…”.
The vineyard of Thera is one of the most peculiar in the world as is almost everything on this volcanic island of the Aegean Sea. The vines flourish here not only because they can withstand drought but also because they are one of the few wooden plants whose roots can penetrate the Theran land.
For centuries vines and wines have played a fundamental role in the island’s economic, social and financial life. The production of the vineyards exceeded the needs of the population, so it was exported, specially at the time shipping had developed.
Local grape varieties produce high quality wines that fully express Santorini’s unique ecosystem.
The cultivated area begins at a height of 300 metres and the vines go all the way down to the level of the sea. The vine dressers built dry stone walls to protect the soil from erosion and to increase the cultivated land.
The vineyard of Santorini is ancient, as are its varieties. Excavation findings in the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri, reveal that grapes were grown on the island at least since the 17th century BC. Wine cultivation, wine making and wine trade were important activities for the habitants.
The prehistoric vineyard was destroyed by the great volcanic eruption around 1600 BC. According to Herodotus, the first colonists that went to Santorini after the disaster were the Phoenicians, who, as well as the ones that followed, cultivated various plants, but only vines managed to survive over the centuries in this inhospitable environment.
The new igneous soil gave birth to another vineyard, around 1200 BC. Therefore, we wouldn’t exaggerate if we said that it is more than 3,200 years old, since it has been cultivated non-stop during all this time.
The vines of Santorini are real works of art, and their ancient pruning technique is quite exceptional. To protect plants from strong winds and to limit their need for water, the vine dressers of the island adopted and refined a primitive pruning technique, called “kouloura”.
The plants are pruned to form a low vegetable basket where grapes are protected and mature, without run the risk of being damaged by sand, which is carried by the wind. According to oenologist Angeliki Georgantopoulou, the fine sandy soil, poor in nutritious ingredients, with low argil content protected Santorini’s vineyard from vine louse (phylloxera). Today the are one of the few self rooted vineyards in Europe.