Whether red or white, still or sparkling, if you’ve ever sampled the wines of Santorini, you’ll immediately discover they possess a wonderfully expressive and complex character. But what makes the wines of Santorini so unique? The answer lies partly in the soil. Santorini is a volcanic island, and this creates favourable conditions for the cultivation of Athiri, Aidani, Assyrtiko, Mavrotragano, and Mandilaria, the main grape varieties of Greece’s most famous island.
Successive volcanic eruptions throughout the millennia formed a uniquely textured soil consisting of layers of volcanic ashes, pumice stone, sand, and basalt. This soil inherently has little, if any, organic material, and contains high levels of essential minerals which result in naturally low pH levels in the wine. Put more simply, the acidic soils help grapes to preserve acidity which is essential for crafting harmonious wines in Santorini’s Mediterranean climate.
The presence of these special minerals and the lack of clay in Santorini’s soils give rise to grapes bearing a distinctive flavour profile and provides a natural shield from diseases. The low-yielding vines of Santorini are a rarity in the wine world because they are planted in the soil with their own rootstocks whereas the majority of vines across the world are grafted. This is thanks to the fact that Santorini’s volcanic soil is inhospitable to the phylloxera louse which decimated vines in nearly every other winemaking region around the globe. As a result, some vines on Santorini are well over a hundred years old.
While grapes have been cultivated on Santorini for thousands of years, it wasn’t until relatively recently that researchers began to delve into the wonderful array of native grapes we have on the island. In his 1842 book Histoire et phenomenes du volcan et des iles volcaniques de Santorin, Abbe Pegues notes, “There are more than sixty grape varieties on Santorini, but for the production of ordinary wine and Santo wine almost only one is used, the Asýrtiko, because it is the most prolific and the best”.
As Pegues noted, we’re most famous for Assurtiko here on Santorini, but there are many other exciting native grapes found across the island, several of which we cultivate here at Vassaltis Winery.See More
The climate of the island varies between hot Mediterranean and desert. Winters here are mild followed by warm and windy springs and hot, dry summers.
Throughout the year, Santorini sees little rainfall. Whatever showers grace the vineyards are quickly soaked up by the rocky, sandy soil which make up most sites. During the growing season, much of the moisture the vines receive comes from morning mists rolling off the sea which are formed on the steep slopes of the caldera formation. When the wind stills, these mists blanket the island and bring a cooling influence to the vineyards.
Northern winds blow all through the summer season and help prevent the growth of mould, making Santorini an ideal place for sustainable viticulture. These chilly northern winds also moderate temperatures and help the grapes to preserve their natural acidity while they ripen so that by harvest, we have beautifully fresh yet ripe grapes – perfect for making exceptional wine.
Together, the amount of rainfall, the springtime winds, summer heatwaves, and night-time humidity of late July and August all determine the quality and quantity of a vintage.