Greek vineyards are among the world’s oldest and have produced wines for thousands of years. They can be described as viticultural “isles” which dot the entire country, continental and island areas alike. Thanks to its geographical location in the temperate Mediterranean region (latitude: 35ο to 41ο north), Greece is endowed throughout with favorable climatic conditions for vine growing.
Proximity to the sea has a decisively beneficial climatic impact, particularly on the terroirs of coastal areas.
Greek vineyards are found on diverse soil and terrain, at altitudes varying between sea level and often in excess of 1,000m. They are largely found on mountain and semi-mountainous terroirs and, to a much lesser degree, on terroirs of continental features.
In geographical terms, Greek vineyards are distinguished into those of northern Greece, centralGreece (Attica included), Peloponnese and the Ionian islands, the Aegean Sea islands and those ofCrete. These regions are further subdivided into smaller ones, each with its own particular soil, climate, and topographical features -all of which, when combined with mainly native cultivars, give Greek wines their unique and diverse character.
The vineyards of northern Greece
The geographical zone of northern Greece stretches from the Pindos mountain range in the west to Thrace in the east. Its natural border to the south is the Olympus mountain range, at approximately latitude 40o north. The vineyards of northern Greece (Drama and Kavala, Halkidiki, Goumenissa, Naoussa, Amynteo, Rapsani, Zitsa and Metsovo etc.) cover an area of approximately 25,000 acres which benefit from the temperate and humid climate of the region. They host cultivars of foreign origin, yielding some of the best Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Syrah varieties produced in Greece, as well as native cultivars, notably Xinomavro, the noblest red produced by the vineyards of northern Greece.
The vineyards of northern Greece are usually scattered amidst other cultivations, orchards and crops alike. Vineyards are normally found on smooth terrain, but they may also be perched on mountain slopes or semi-mountainous terroirs. They frequently stretch along the coastline or lakesides, benefiting from the favorable temperate climate created by the Mediterranean waters. The soil they are planted in is generally fertile with fair moisture capacity and favors brisk vine growth, necessitating the use of advanced training systems and elaborate cultivation practices. Because of the region’s typically flatter terrain -in relation to southern Greece -and the ampler availability of natural resources like cultivable soil and water, the vineyards of northern Greece are almost all linear and irrigated, with medium to low planting densities —fewer than 4,000 vines stocks per hectare.
The vineyards of mainland Greece
Mainland Greece is a part of the country with diverse geology and geomorphology. Its northern part encompasses the region of Thessalia (Thessaly), which includes the vineyards of Messenikola, Anchialos and Tyrnavos, and extends to the Pindos mountain range in the west. In the south, it includes the region of Central Greece, where the wine-producing districts of Fthiotida, Viotia and Attiki (Attica) are found. Most of the vineyards of mainland Greece are clustered in Attiki, which accounts for about 25,000 acres of the total of 50,000 acres cultivated in the region as a whole.
Despite the diverse climatic and topographic conditions, thevineyards of mainland Greece are mainly found on flat lands—continental terroirs—and their yield goes mainly toward the production of table wines. With the exception of recent plantings, viticulture in the region still largely relies on traditional practices (vines are trained into “goblets”) and mostly involves native cultivars -notably Savvatiano, the most cultivated wine producing variety in Greece
The vineyards of the Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands
The Peloponnese is a mountainous area, divided into two main vine growing regions by the ranges that traverse it. One region encompasses the central and northern parts, where Mantinia and Nemea are the main winemaking hubs respectively. The western part, which stretches from the northern slopes of Mount Panachaiko (near Egio and Patras) to the coastline of the Ionian Sea down to Messinia, represents the second region. Its main vine growing areas are Achaia in the north and Ilia and Messinia in the south.The vineyards of the Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands are located in areas featuring a mild Mediterranean climate, due to the moderating effect of the sea in the Gulf of Korinthos (Corinth) to the north, as well as the protection and the cool winds offered by the mountain ranges of continental Greece and the central Peloponnese. The vineyards of the Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands are concentrated on the mountainous and semi-mountainous areas, either on rugged terrain or on plateaus and valleys wedged in between the mountain massifs.
The vineyards of the Aegean islands
The vineyards of the Aegean islands, excluding Crete, cover thousands of acres where native cultivars are grown almost to the exclusion of other varieties. It should come as no surprise that the huge expanse of seawater surrounding the islands has a positive impact on the island`s coastline vineyards. In the northern Aegean, the white Muscat varieties—including Muscat of Alexandria— dominate while, in the southern Aegean region, comprised of the Cyclades and the Dodecanese, the main varieties are Assyrtiko, Athiri, Monemvassia and the red variety of Mandilaria, together with small amounts of many local varieties. The strong winds which sweep over the islands throughout the growing season, the rugged and often inhospitable terrain, and the poor and barren soil with its minimal water resources have led to the prevalence of the traditional goblet system for pruning and training vines. To a great extent, viticulture on the islands continues to use traditional methods and mechanical cultivation is used in only few vineyards. One such example of traditional methods are the tiered terraces (pezoules) built as a way to avoid soil erosion and retain the precious little rainwater. The unique volcanic terroirs of Santorini hold a prominent position among the vineyards of the Aegean islands, as do those of the islands of Paros and Rhodes. Elsewhere in the archipelago, Samos and Lemnos have been famous since antiquity for their sweet wines.
The vineyards of Crete
Most of the vineyards of Crete are located in the eastern section of the island, particularly its northern side which benefits from the northerly and northeasterly sea winds. The viticultural industry is experiencing brisk growth, making the island one of the most significant and dynamic terroirs of Greece. Most of the vineyards of Crete are situated on the lowland plains and on plateaus, at altitudes of up to 3,300 feet. Most of them are linear although the traditional practice of goblet training has remained in some. The mountain ranges of Lefka Ori, Idi and Dikty traverse Crete, featuring several dozens of summits, forming large plateaus and gorges, and creating an endless diversity of terroirs where the local varieties of Vilana, Kotsifali, and Liatiko thrive alongside a plethora of other native and international cultivars. The Cretan climate is particularly hot and dry, with sunshine for 70% of the year and little rainfall during the summertime (less than 2 inches). However, these conditions are mitigated by sea winds and high altitudes. These factors have facilitated the adaptation of vines in Greece’s and Europe’s southernmost region (latitude: 35º north).