There is No Bugging This Wine

There is money to be found in the lay of Santorini’s land. For over 4000 years, Santorini has prided itself on the production of a wine that is unique due to its’ harvesting circumstances. In order to generate income to sustain a stable economy, Santorini traded with many different countries: including France and Egypt. The wineries were not the only sources of wine on the island though, as every home contained a wine press. This enabled individuals to produce wine for themselves and excess to sell to the wineries to supplement income for Santorini.

Despite the high concentration of wine in Santorini, the production is still significantly lower than neighboring countries; Santorini harvests 400 kilos of grapes in a season where others like France produce 3000-5000 kilos. With this limited space on the island and less grape production, the top three wineries still generate 10% of the island’s income. As the wine maintains an important role to the island, the wineries discovered in 1970, that storing the wine in glass bottles would preserve it for a longer period of time rather than the oak barrels used in the past.

G. Koutsoyannopoulos is a very popular winery and museum on the island of Santorini.
G. Koutsoyannopoulos is a very popular winery and museum on the island of Santorini.

Wine serves a great importance to the island but that has slowly been pushed aside as tourism has greatly increased. With an economy highly dependent on capital coming from tourists coming to the island, more space was needed to be available. Therefore, land was being bought to build hotels and other buildings to support this change. This led to the uprooting of several varieties of grapes.

The Mavrotragano grape is unique to the island of Santorini. It has a dark red skin that allows for a sweet red wine. According to the wine-searcher, “The palate is full bodied, with an array of spicy, stewed fruits, laced with minerals, earth and leather” (1). This grape grows ungrafted (grafted- combination of two plants for the benefits of both) in the soil because of the flavor it produces on its own.

As the grape remains ungrafted, it sits in the volcanic material from the most recent Minoan eruption. The pumice that it sits in, protects it from the phylloxera mite. This bug eats at the roots of grapevines, destroying any ability to grow in the future. Because of the abnormal growing conditions, Santorini houses one of the few places in the world not affected by this mite.

The pumice that the vines grow in, allow for the roots to retain a greater amount of water and hold that water throughout the summer months. Pumice is created when gases dissolved in the magma expand rapidly creating rocks that are highly vesicular. The phylloxera mite is unable to live in these conditions because it is not real soil. As pumice is a highly vesicular volcanic rock, it can not support a mite reliant on the soil it lives in.

Pumice is shown as the vesicles (holes) are the reason the roots thrive.
Pumice is shown as the vesicles (holes) are the reason the roots thrive.

Wine has played a huge role in the success of Santorini’s economy in the past. As ideas change and time passes, traditions are lost. Despite a worldwide pressure to upgrade to the most convenient forms of production, many Santorini wineries are fighting for that traditional way of production. This will maintain a way of life for the locals and sustain the classic taste people around the world have loved for centuries.

1. “Mavrotragano Wine.” Wine-searcher. Wine-searcher Staff, 2014. Web. 5 June 2014.

Perpera, Sofia. “History.” All About Greek Wine. Thalassi Companies, 2010. Web. 5 June 2014.

3 thoughts on “There is No Bugging This Wine

  1. Hi Jonathan,

    Your exploration of wine production in Santorini provides a good introduction to the importance of wine on the island. I was reading your post and also Joe’s post and am curious to see whether you will be exploring more of this topic in future entries.

    I would be interested in hearing more about the following topics that you addressed briefly:

    — why is storing wine in glass bottles better than in barrels? Is this an overall finding, or a finding for Santorini wine?

    — you mention that the top 3 wineries produce 10% of the island’s income. Later on, you mention that tourism had a negative impact on wine production. What was the wine production before tourism became important?

    — Why was the Mavrotragano grape saved from extinction? Is it only available in Santorini? Is it hardy? Does it thrive on the pumice soil? Does the pumice soil change the flavor of the wine? What is the wine known for?

    — Maintaining a way of life: Why is it important to maintain a way of life? Since you are there right now, what would be lost of the wineries upgraded? What can you see that’s especially important to maintain?

    Good luck with your work.

    1. Thank you very much for all the comments. They really got me thinking more about the specifics of my writing. To answer a couple of your questions, the wine is in the bottles because it preserves the wine for a longer amount of time. It sits in the oak barrels as it matures and later put in bottles. This works for all wines, not just in Santorini. Also, I found that it is important to maintain some things to remember the past becauseit gives future generations a sense of what came before them. We may not be able to have the exact same experiences but we can still get a glimpse of how things used to be done. It is important to understand where you come from.

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