On my trip to Greece, I was very excited to learn that we would be visiting one of the “wreath vine” vineyards of Santorini, because they are reputed to be some of the oldest grapevines on earth, with roots dating to over 400 years old. The climate of this island is dry and windy, forcing the vines to hug the earth in one of the most unique trellis systems in the world – called the “Kouloura.” With this the vines are pruned in the shape of a wreath, so that the grape bunches inside the wreath are protected from the wind and can reach maturity.
We took a bus outside the main town of Fira, and were invited to go hiking through a vineyard composed of the wreath vines. The landscape was very barren, and it was hard to believe that these flat clusters of leaves and branches on the ground could produce grapes. We learned that after a number of decades, the wreath grows too tall, and is cut off so a new wreath can form. However, the original roots stay in the ground, resulting in grapevines that are hundreds of years old. During our visit, we were able to see one of the vineyard managers show us how to prune a vine. See video below.
Assyrtiko – the Signature Wine Grape of Santorini
The main grape of Santorini is white and called “Assyrtiko.” It creates a wine that is known for its bracingly high acid, which some call the “White Burgundy of Greece,” and has been produced on the island since early Greek and Roman times. Many of the assyrtiko grapes are grown on the wreath vines, and because of the challenges of growing in this extreme environment, many of the wines are rather expensive and rare. The wines usually taste of bright lemon, hazelnut and a minerally salty note, and pair beautifully with seafood.
Santorini – An Island of Legend and Exquisite Wine
This was my second visit to Santorini, and like the first, I was stunned with the stark beauty of this island. We arrived by boat to see its huge volcanic cliffs soaring high above us, because Santorini is part of a sunken caldera. Originally much larger, the island was destroyed by a volcano that erupted in the 1630’s BC, causing some people to speculate that Santorini is the site of the lost city of Atlantis.
Our bus zig-zagged to the top of the cliff where the town of Fira with its white houses, pink bougainvillea, tiny winding streets, and blue domed churches enchanted everyone. We were able to spend three delightful days here, and tasted wines from many of its nearly 20 wine producers. Some of the labels of these wineries are illustrated below.