In spite of its inhospitable landscape, craggy Santorini produces quality wines thanks to the climactic conditions found in the Aegean Islands; a rocky, volcanic soil combined with hot and sunny summers, humid night-time temperatures, and mild, dry winters.
However, summers on the island are virtually without rainfall and to combat this, vines are grown close to the ground, coiled around themselves in ‘baskets’ that are able to trap moisture overnight. The roots go down deep to extract nutrients from the rich volcanic soil but thanks to the unstable structure of this mixture of ash, sand, pumice and lava, all cultivating and harvesting is still done by hand. The grape crop is transported from the fields by donkey.
Santorini’s grape harvest can be destroyed by hot winds blowing in from north Africa, so most of the vineyards are found in the lee of Mount Profitis Ilias, which rises 1,857 ft (566 m) above the sea in the south of the island. Despite all these issues, it has been a center of wine production for thousands of years.
The Santo co-operative winery rescued the industry in the 1990s when Santorini went through its tourism boom and farmland was being sold off at an alarming rate to build hotels and apartments. Today the co-op buys grapes in from small growers and pays them to keep producing. The island’s best-known wine is Vinsanto, the sweet white made from grapes dried in the sun so the sugar condenses. Oak-aged white Nykteri and citrusy Assyrtiko wines are also produced here along with a small number of reds.
Happily there are plenty of bars and tavernas scattered across Santorini in which to taste the 36 wines produced by the 10 different winemakers. A newly devised Wine Road runs north to south on the island, passing all the local wineries en route in a concerted effort to promote wine tourism to visitors. Several of the producers have canavas (cellars) that open to the public for sampling and buying, including Gavalas and Argyros, both signposted off the Wine Road. Wine-tasting visits can be made independently or as part of private driving tours around the island.