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Greek Wine Month

Greece - Land of the Gods, Light and Great Wine

Here at South Downs Cellars, we love something a bit different.  So, this Summer we are focussing on the Wines of Greece.  Despite the huge heritage, the Wines of Greece can promote themselves solely by virtue of their present attributes and not past glories. In the last three decades, a wind of change has been blowing through Greek wine production, turning a relatively traditional agricultural sector into a cutting-edge entity in today’s wine world. Greek producers have invested heavily in people, education, know-how and technology, starting a steep learning curve. The level of wine quality currently coming out of Greece can match any other country, but there are several other features that make the Wines of Greece stand apart.

Greece has an amazing array of distinctive, unique terroirs.  From the mountainous and semi-mountainous terroirs of Macedonia and Central Greece, to the volcanic soils of Santorini, to the coastal terroirs of the islands and the Peloponnese, each adding its own unique character to the wine produced from over 300 indigenous grape varieties found in Greece.  The average Greek winery is small compared to the rest of Europe or the New World, with the emphasis definitely on family-owned boutique wineries.  All vineyard practices, from planting to pruning and harvesting, are carried out entirely by hand, which all allow for greater attention to detail and the ability to select only the best grapes, both key factors in top quality wine production.

 

Greek vineyards are among the world’s oldest, and have produced wines for thousands of years. Vineyards are found on diverse soil and terrain, at altitudes varying between sea level and often in excess of 1000m. There are a total of 64,000ha of vines in Greece (compared to over 750,000ha in France) with over 180,000 growers and 1200 wineries spread across the country and its islands.

 

Greece’s biggest star is the Assyrtiko grape, grown on both Santorini and on the mainland.  The Santorini Assyrtikos have been forefront in the rise in popularity and recognition of Greek wine around the world, with the cost of grapes on this island rivalling the cost of grapes in Champagne as vineyards and tourism fight for the very limited space. Santorini provides a unique terroir with around 60 metres of volcanic ash and pumice as its soil, the pumice holding just enough water to feed the vines.   The island’s caldera is also the source of dense night mists which form over the island, providing a morning dew which feeds the vines with much needed moisture throughout the dry summer.For grapes to grow, and indeed flourish in this harsh environment, the “kouloura” vine training method is used, where the vines are trained in to a basket shape, with the grape bunches inside the “basket”, protecting them from the strong winds and the heat of the sun. Due to the island’s sandy, pumice and ash soil, the aphid Phylloxera cannot survive here, so the vines are ungrafted, and the rootstock is sometimes hundreds of years old, resulting in incredible complexity of wine.