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.


Santorini’s climate is a delicate balance  between Mediterranean and desert. The island gets just enough rainfall that it is not classified as a desert, but little enough that drought is  a major concern on most vintages. It is generally a very warm to hot place with warm and windy spings, hot dry summers, and mild autumns and winters. 

The island only gets an average of 200mm of rain a year, most of which falls during the winter. Whatever showers grace the vineyards are quickly soaked up by the rocky, sandy soil. During the growing season (April to October), much of the moisture the vines receive comes from morning mists rolling off the sea. When the winds are still, these mists blanket the island and bring both moisture and a cooling influence to the vineyards.

Being in the middle of the Aegean Sea, Santorini is a very windy place as well. During spring time, strong winds pose a big threat to grape yields as they can damage the young shoots. The island  also contends with the northern summer winds called meltemia. These winds blow throughout the summer season and are considered a blessing to the vines. They are mild, cool,  help prevent the growth of mould and other diseases, and discourage pests. 

One more -major- attribute is that they also moderate temperatures and help the grapes preserve their natural acidity. In their absence, persistent heat waves and strong sunshine might damage the aromatic profile of the grapes while impacting this natural acidity. 

Altogether, the above weather conditions lead to the low yields, high natural acidity and intense salinity that make Santorini wines so unique. Depending on the intensity of each factor, they can make or break a winery’s vintage.




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