Wine in everyday life
Vine and wine are interwoven with the everyday life of several countries’ inhabitants around the world. In Greece, wine in everyday life is an ancient affair, as ancient as time immemorial. Cultivation of the vine as well as wine production and its consumption throughout the ages have been linked to Greece’s everyday life with ties whose origins are lost down the passage of time. The products and the wine stemming from the vine are cultural, social, and nutritional staples of Greeks and Greek life.
In Greece, from prehistoric times to the present, wine in everyday life, as a complement to nutrition, as a part of religion, or as pure pleasure, has always been inextricably intertwined with Greek collective memory and, in all likelihood, has been etched into the Greek DNA.
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, central Greece (Attica included), Peloponnese and the Ionian islands, the Aegean Sea islands and those of Crete. 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 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 Lemnos
The vineyards of Lemnos host Muscat of Alexandria vines, mostly on rolling terrain along shallow valleys on the island’s hilly western side. Around 1,250 acres are cultivated, of which 90-95% is taken up by Muscat of Alexandria and the rest is accounted for by Limnio, the ancient Greek red cultivar locally known as “Kalambaki”. The variety was named after the island following its transplant elsewhere, where it became known by its place of origin. Normally, harvesting on Lemnos takes place between mid-September and the end of the month.
The vineyards of Samos
White Muscat holds a prominent position in the vineyards of Samos, taking up 95% of almost 4,400 acres devoted to viticulture on the island. Most of the variety’s yield goes toward production of the famous sweet wine of Samos. Although the vineyards are scattered throughout the island, their core is to be found on the island’s northern side between Karlovassi and the city of Samos. The granite soil on Samos is neutral, calcareous and has low fertility but good drainage. Most of the vineyards are planted on tiered terraces (pezoules). The climate on the island is typically Mediterranean. The vineyards of Samos are found on highly varying altitudes -between those of the low plains and those that rise up to 800-900 meters in the uplands. This has a strong effect on the aromatic features of the wines produced -the most typical of which are perhaps those originating in semi-mountainous terroirs.
The vineyards of Paros
The vineyards of Paros occupy approximately 1,200 acres, mainly planted with the white Monemvassia and red Mandilaria varieties. When blended together, these two varieties yield a unique red wine, as the white Monemvassia adds aromas and softens the roughness of Mandilaria. Monemvassia is also used for the production of a dry white wine. The vines are trained into short goblets and are planted on rich calcareous, sandy and sandy-claye soil that is the result of erosion from the slopes of Mount Profitis Elias. Today, the better part of the vineyards of Paros stretches across the island’s lowlands and has never been blighted by phylloxera.
The vineyards of Santorini
White varieties hold sway in the vineyards of Santorini, with Assyrtiko being the most prominent cultivar on 1,700 acres and the aromatic Aidani coming a close second. Most of the vineyards are found in the southern and southwestern part of the island, on soil of volcanic origin (santorin or pumic stone ) and sandy composition, with virtually zero moisture capacity and organic matter -which explains the absence of phylloxera. The extremely low fertility of the soil, especially its low potassium levels, seems to contribute to the high acidity of Assyrtiko grapes when fully ripe. The climate is dry with a mere 14 inches of annual rainfall, yet proximity to the sea and the permanent moist winds lower the high daytime temperatures in summer. Given these conditions, the island’s vintners train the vine stocks into traditional wreath-like baskets (known as “kouloura,” “paneri” or “ambelia”) in order to shelter the grapes from the wind and direct exposure to sunlight. The average yields per acre of the vineyards of Santorini do not exceed 3,100 lbs. Harvesting usually begins within the first 10 days of August, but in the area of Pyrgos, the island’s highest point at an altitude of 1,100 feet, grapes are harvested later and thus reach the peak of their aromatic potential.
The vineyards of Rhodes
The main cultivation zone of the vineyards of Rhodes is found around Mount Attavyros, at altitudes of up to 2,600 feet and with exposure ranging from southeastern to northwestern orientations. This is the demesne of the white variety of Athiri which is exclusively cultivated in the mountain zone, where it retains its high acidity. In contrast, the red variety of Mandilaria (which the locals call “Amorgiano”) is cultivated mainly in the semi-mountainous areas and flatlands, yielding a ruby and tannic wine. The most serious problem vintners tending the vineyards of Rhodes face is the strong southerly winds which prevail during the growing season. As a result, the vines on the mountain slopes are pruned back into short-trunk goblets, a practice not followed in the flatlands where plantings are linear and irrigated. Another important cultivar is the white Muscat, which yields sweet wines.
The vineyards of Cephalonia
The vineyards of Cephalonia, the Ionian island, cover a total area of just 750 acres. They climb up to 800 m on the western slopes of Mount Enos and yield the noble white variety of Robola, a unique cultivar in Greece that is trained into traditional, low-trunk goblets. This variety thrives on the poor, calcareous soil of the island’s southern and central mountainous and semi-mountainous terroirs where, until recently, the variety was cultivated in its self-rooted form. Following the appearance of phylloxera on Cephalonia in 1988 efforts begun to replant the vineyards using existing stocks that had proved resistant to phylloxera. The red variety of Mavrodaphne, used in the production of the homonymous dessert wine, is cultivated at lower altitudes, as is the Muscat White variety.
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).
Unique winegrowing practices
Greece has an age-old tradition in winegrowing which has led to a wealth of unique winegrowing practices. As historical records and archeological facts indicate many became common practice after having been in existence for entire millennia.
The renowned Greek wines of antiquity acquired their fame through their quality which, to a great extent owed its existence of such practices, which were remarkably advanced for their times. Among them are wine presses, debourbage, filtration, sulfation, oaking, etc.
Through the passage of time, these unique winegrowing practices developed in Greece were handed down from generation to generation.. The result is the production of wines popular both in their place of production as well as elsewhere, among wine lovers seeking out the winegrowing traditions of different countries.
Some characteristic examples of unique winegrowing practices still applied by Greek winegrowers today are:
• Sun-drying the grapes to produce straw wines (vin liastos)
• Adding pine resin to produce retsina
• Various discrete ways of vinification leading to the production of traditional wines such as verdea, nycteri, marouvas and “air-dried” wines. Many of these wines are still crafted in historic Greek vineyards today.
Most of these unique winegrowing practices are applied under the supervision of experienced scientists, agriculturalists, and oenologists using state-of-the-art equipment in modern wineries. Still, the production process is based on techniques that emerged and were first tried out centuries ago.
The European Union, by means of its Council Regulation 479/2008 and its Commission Regulation 607/2009 implementing the Council Regulation, has decided, among others, to include wines in the framework applicable to all other agricultural products, thus establishing the following wine categories:
• PDO Wines: “PDO products” bear a “Protected Designation of Origin” indication. This wine category comprises Greek wines bearing a Designation of Origin (VQPRD), in other words, all AOQS and AOC wines.
• PGI Wines: PGI products are those bearing a “Protected Geographical Indication”. This wine category comprises all Regional Wines and any of the wines of “Traditional Designation” which, simultaneously, have an established geographical indication i.e., Verdea and 15 retsinas (PGI wines of Greece).
• Varietal wines: Varietals wines are a new wine category which includes those table wines complying with all the necessary prerequisites and controls as those are stipulated in Article 63, Council Regulation 607/2009. In contrast to ordinary table wines, wines of this wine category are entitled to bear an indication of their vintage year and varietal composition but not of their geographical indication.
• Table wines: “Ordinary” table wines belong to a wine category which includes all wines which are neither PDO or PGI but, in addition, are not in the wine varietals category either. The regulation stipulates that table wines in this wine category are still not entitled to display their vintage year or the varieties participating in their composition.
Categories of Greek wines
In all winegrowing countries of Europe, wine categories are based on the rationale of the wines’ place of provenance (designation of origin). Many are the countries which during the 20th century adopted this system of classification, each shaping its corresponding wine legislation, a practice which, common by now, has been adopted and further evolved by the European Union. Thus, it was within that framework that regulations and legislation regarding the categories of Greek wines have been established since 1971. Ever since then, Greek wine legislation continues to evolve and broaden its scope. As of 1981 (the year when Greece joined the EE), Greek wine legislation moves along the lines of the EE regulatory framework.
Greek wine legislation foresees two (2) broad Greek wine categories:
• «Designation of Origin Wines” (VQPRD or Vin de Qualité Produit Dans Une Région Déterminée), a category which includes all AOQS and AOC wines, i.e., those bearing a “Designation of Origin of Superior Quality” or a “Controlled Designation of Origin”, respectively (PDO wines of Greece).
• «Table Wines,” a category which includes all “Regional (Local) Wines” –PGI wines of Greece; wines of “Traditional Designation”; and ordinary table wines.
PDO wines of Greece
PDO Wines of Greece (“Protected Designation of Origin”) include the Greek wine category of “Designation of Origin Wines” (AOQS and AOC).
The areas where AOQS wines are produced – “Designation of Origin of Superior Quality” (part of the PDO Wines of Greece) are in essence the historical winegrowing and winemaking areas of Greece. In those areas, winegrowing zones determined on the basis of the borders of communal municipalities have been established, together with certain restrictions regarding altitudes or natural and artificial limits. With the exception of two areas, varietal compositions are determined strictly on the basis of Greek native grape varieties. All zones are subject to restrictions as to the maximum allowable yields per 0.1 hectare and various other prerequisites which wines must comply with. Especially AOQS wines, which carry a mandatory characteristic red band on the neck of their bottles, must be produced by wineries located within their winegrowing zone. In other words, it is not only the grapes which must originate within a certain zone: the wineries vinifying them must be established within that zone as well.
The AOC wines zones – “Controlled Appellation of Origin” (part of the PDO Wines of Greece) are historically and geographically determined winegrowing areas. AOC wines, which must be vinified by wineries located within their zones, carry a mandatory characteristic blue band on the neck of their bottles, must meet all the prerequisites of AOQS wines and, additionally, have higher specifications as to their content in sugars. They are exclusively sweet wines which are produced in the following two ways:
• By addition of alcohol originating in wine (previously fortified wines – currently liqueur wines). Such wines are characterized as "vin doux naturel". The use of alcohol in their vinifications gives them the designation of “controlled” wines.
• By concentration of the grape contents through various natural techniques (over-maturation on the vine stock; exposure to the sun (sun-dried grapes); sun-drying; or air-drying following the harvest). These wines bear the characterization of “vin naturellement doux”. Should the grapes yielding these wines have been sun-dried prior to vinification, the wines are also entitled to being characterized as “straw wines" or "vin liastos”. No additional sweetening is allowed through the addition of must, concentrated or not, or through the addition of alcohol or any distillate.
PDO Wines of Greece (AOQS and AOC) are required to display certain indications and other information on their labels. These concern aging times (oxidized aging in oak barrels and fermentation in bottles) as well as details of the winegrowing entity producing them.
In the popular zones of PDO Wines of Greece (AOQS and AOC) provisions allow aging in oak barrels (with the exception of the PDO Santorini and PDO Monemvassia-Malvasia zones); bottling (except PDO Monemvassia-Malvasia) and bottle fermentation also in wineries located outside the zones. Thus, PDO Wines of Greece (AOQS and AOC) are also produced by wineries outside the zones that collaborate with wineries within them.
PGI wines of Greece
The PGI Wines of Greece (“Protected Geographical Indication”) comprise the Greek “Local Wines” category and some wines of “Traditional Appellation”. Both European and Greek wine legislation stipulates that local wines are a sub-category of table wines which have been experiencing considerable growth both in Greece and other European countries. The introduction of the PGI Wines of Greece designation aimed at reinforcing the concepts of authenticity and typicality. Specific geographical boundaries and varietal compositions are set and producers can display vintage years of wines. Depending on their geographical breadth, PGI zones are divided into three levels:
• PGI Regional Wines - The PGI Regional Wines constitute the broader, overall level of the PGI wines of Greece. Eight of the country’s nine winegrowing regions produce designated PGI Regional Wines, with the exception of the Ionian Islands. Provisions foresee that all of the regions may establish production of white, rosé, and red wines that may be dry, medium dry or medium sweet. However, not all regions produce all wine types as Greek winegrowers engage in wine production depending on the goals they set, on consumer preferences, on relevant trends and, of course, on their area’s winegrowing tradition.
Grapes going towards vinification of PGI Regional Wines must originate in a PDO wines of Greece zone or zones or even in the area or areas of each region. They may be vinified anywhere within the boundaries of the delimited region.
• PGI District Wines - The stipulations governing varietal compositions of PGI District Wines are on the whole stringent, and this is one reason why Greek wine producers occasionally use the broader indications of the PGI Regional Wines. As a result, wine types that can be produced at that level are rather limited. There are 37 PGI District Wines
• PGI Area Wines - There are 58 PGI Area Wines designated in 28 districts of Greece.
Wines of Traditional Appellation
Wines of Traditional Appellation comprise Verdea and all types of Retsina.
Verdea became entitled to the appellation “Verdea, Traditional Designation of Zakynthos” in 1992. It is a white wine that can be produced in Zakynthos only but can be bottled off Zakynthos as well under specific requisites regarding, for example, its varietal composition, yields per 0.1 hectare, etc. As a result, wines bearing that title are included in the category of PGI District Wines of Greece.
Since 1979, some retsina wines, apart from being considered Wines of Traditional Appellation, have become entitled to bear a geographical indication of origin as well and now fall in the category of PGI wines of Greece. There are three types of retsina which bear the indication PGI District Wines: Retsina Attiki, Retsina Viotia and Retsina Evia.
Designation of Origin
Τhe phenomenon of certain wines becoming well-known or even famous and much sought after because of their place of origin (designation of origin) is not an uncommon one in Greece and dates back to antiquity. It has in fact been substantiated that, in ancient times, the authenticity of those wines was safeguarded through a variety of means; archeological finds and historical as well as archival sources corroborate this fact.
Ariousios oenos from Chios; Thasios from Thassos; Maronios or Maronitis from Ismaros and Pramnios from Ikaria are but a few of the sought-after wines of antiquity which bore a designation of origin, as ancient texts confirm. At the same time, inscriptions, seals, and other archeological finds such as sealed amphorae from Rhodes found scattered around the Mediterranean basin, also confirm that the ancient Greeks (as well as others) wanted to make certain that the wines they procured were authentic.
The concept of terroir may well be one expressing authenticity. However, at the same time, it also expresses a wine’s typicality: In other words, it expresses the sum of determinants which are necessary for wines bearing a designation of origin and which are recognizable and repeated from year to year.
The National Inter professional Organization of Vine and Wine of Greece established in 2000 from the institutions KEOSOE (Central Union of Vine and Wine Producing Cooperative Organizations of Greece), which is a third degree branch cooperative organization, and SEO (Greek Wine Federation), which represents the majority of private wine producers.
The Inter professional Organization of Vine and Wine has been recognized as national by the Hellenic Agricultural Ministry since 2001 (Decision No 339097/9-2-2001) and represents both vine and wine sectors in Greece.
Some of the basic aims of the Organization are to:
- improve knowledge and transparency of production and the market,
- help to coordinate better the way products are placed on the market, in particular by means of research and market studies
- provide the information and carry out the research necessary to adjust production towards products more suited to market requirements and consumer tastes and expectations, in particular with regard to product quality and protection to the environment,
- develop methods and instruments for improving product quality at all stages of production, vinification and marketing etc.
Since its establishing, the National Inter professional Organization of Vine and Wine has already developed a lot of activities to carry out the above aims.
Some of these activities are:
1. Establishment of a reciprocal contribution with the aim of creating a source of autonomous funding for our activities.
2. Marketing and promotional programs e.g. “Oenotros”, “Wines Wonderful Wines”, “New Wines of Greece”.
3. Initiative for the identification of indigenous Greek varieties.
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National Inter-Professional Organization of
Vine and Wine of Greece - EDOAO
89, Sevastoupoleos Str. 115 26
Athens - Greece
- greek wine
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- vineyards of lemnos
- vineyards of santorini
- vineyards of samos
- vineyards of paros
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- vineyards of rhodes
- winegrowing practices
- greek wine federation
- interprofessional wine and vine federation of greece
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