Wine research in Greece preceded, ran in parallel to and accompanied the growth of the sector. It thus contributed to its development to the present stage, where the overall picture is set by diversity based, among other things, on the native grape varieties, by a contemporary character inextricably linked with the prominent, historical course of wine through the ages, and, needless to say, by fine wines interwoven in numerous ways with their place of origin and with the people who produce them.
Wine research in Greece began in the 1970’s with the study of native varieties and the ensuing decades marked the advent of the Greek wine revolution. Research continues to this day with the study of vine clones and with particularly ambitious goals so that it may further contribute to optimizing quality both in terms of grapes produced in the Greek vineyards and in terms of winemaking in Greece.
Research into Greek wines was launched by the historic Greek Wine Institute in the 1970’s. The study aimed at probing the wine-making potential of native grape varieties. The first varieties explored were those of Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Savvatiano and Roditis. It was at this time that the Greek wine world came to know the uniqueness of Assyrtiko and its inextricable relationwhip with Santorini. At the same time, another significant study concluded that, when blended with native ones, many of the foreign varieties could end up yielding wines that could easily rival the wines of their place of origin.
Another part of the research also carried out by the Greek Wine Institute at the time involved wine production technology. More specifically, the research delved into the issue of how to protect white wines from oxidation and how to achieve the optimum maceration conditions when vinifying Greek, red grape varieties. An experimental winery was set up at the Greek Wine Institute to monitor all vinification processes. The grapes tested came from the vineyards of the Greek Vine Institute and various other vineyards collaborating in the research. In combination with a number of other events, the research carried out by the Greek Wine Institute, which continues to this day, played a very important role in the Greek wine revolution that was to come in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The 1980’s and the 1990’s witnessed the intensive growth of viticultural research in Greece, initially in ampelography. In actual fact, research in the specific field had started in the Laboratory of Viticulture of the Agricultural University of Athens in the 1930’s, focusing on the identification and classification of the principal Greek grape cultivars. However, the wine revolution of the 1980’s and the 1990’s brought to the fore the need for clonal selection and identification of native grape cultivars with improved response to technology. Although Greece at the time was intent on the exploration of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, many had already begun to realize that the future of Greek wine hung from the difference Greek grape varieties could made.
In the 1990’s, the EU began funding viticultural research in Greece, helping it expand. Studies began to appear at tertiary education level, such as the Agricultural University of Athens, the School of Agriculture at the University of Thessaloniki and the Chemistry Department at the University of Patras, and at research facilities such as the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania in Crete. Research focused on the polyphenolic composition of the Greek red grape cultivars in comparison to the composition of international red grape varieties. The Chemistry Department of the University of Ioannina also launched research on the protection of white wines against oxidation and the impact oxidation has on wine aromas. Other studies focused on substances that are beneficial to health, such as resveratrol, or detrimental, such as ochratoxins, given that Greek climatic conditions favor their growth in grapes. Participants in these research programs included wineries, be they private or cooperatives, and relevant agencies such as the Central Union of Wine Producing Cooperative Organizations of Greece (KEOSOE). Wineries held the role of end user in these programs, as stipulated by EU policies in research.
Graduate study programs in viticulture and oenology were launched by the University of Thessaloniki’s Faculty of Agriculture in 2001and by the Agricultural University of Athens (AUA) in 2003, laying the basis for the Greek viticultural research of today. More specifically, AUA’s Inter-departmental Graduate Program is run jointly by the Department of Food Science & Technology and the Department of Crop Science. The Laboratory of Oenology, part of the Department of Food Science & Technology, is outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment for wine research. An experimental winery has been set up where students train in vinification, studying the aromas of Greek grape cultivars, their anthocyanin content, as well as their polyphenolic components. The research also looks separately into the composition of the grape skin and pips in many varieties. These methods are also employed in research on the impact that the water may have on the various components of red grape cultivars. Additionally, experimentation is conducted on the impact leafing has on the composition of grape berries. The experiments are conducted in collaboration with the Laboratory of Viticulture of the University of Thessaloniki.
Within the framework of the Greek viticultural research of today, it is worth mentioning the significance of the research carried out by the Agricultural School of Thessaloniki into the conditions of alcoholic fermentation and yeast growth. The issue involved in the research is all too crucial for Greek wines since, owing to the warm climate of the country, musts often appear to be poor in assimilable nitrogen. Moreover, further research is conducted into exploiting winery by-products. This research is under the supervision of the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry at AUA, in collaboration with the School of Pharmacy of theUniversity of Athens. The program has gone so far as to put together a pilot program for the utilization of grape skins and pips, in collaboration with winery cooperatives. Research will continue in the same vein so that research centers may then essay to transfer to wineries the know-how involved in “green vinification” which is friendly to the environment, to nature, and to humans.