Mountainous and semi-mountainous terroirs

The mountainous and semi-mountainous terroirs are the most common in Greece. These are the best endowed, due to the country’s hot and dry climate. By and large, the Greek areas producing wines that carry a protected designation of origin (PDO wines) label are situated in semi-mountainous and mountainous areas where the terrain is either smooth (plateaus) or inclined. In the first instance, the vineyards are planted in deep soil of alluvial origin, while in the second instance, the growing soil is shallow and poor. Characteristic examples of vineyards in mountainous areas are those of Amynteo, Zitsa and Metsovo, and Achaia (slopes of Egialia). Parts of the zones of Samos, Nemea, Peza, Cephalonia and Rapsani are also included in this category. Most of rest may be described as semi-mountainous areas.

In the mountainous and semi-mountainous terroirs, average daytime temperatures drop by about 0.5 to 0.9°C per 100m, causing differentiations in the climate. The result is localized climatic conditions (meso-climates) favorable to the successful adaptation of a wider range of cultivars. When it comes to sloping vineyards, another important factor in their well-being is their exposure (slope aspect) to sunshine. Under Greece’s climatic conditions, exposures of a southern orientation are normally avoided as they subject grapes to overheating.

Mountainous and semi-mountainous terroirs, particularly in warm climates, have the important advantage of a more moist environment, due to a smaller loss (through evaporation and transpiration) in soil moisture and higher cloud concentration and rainfall. They also benefit from midday and night breezes from the mountains and valleys which revitalize the vine stocks and contribute to their normal growth. Such conditions facilitate ripening and the optimization of the range of cultivars, and allow for better conditions in handling the grapes during the stages following their initial harvest.

Continental terroirs

By and large, the climate of the Greek geographical area is typically Mediterranean. Still, in the interior of mainland Greece, especially in the parts distant from the coastline and other large water masses, the climate has features which are strongly continental. Even if it can be said that Greece has no such thing as purely continental terroirs, there are vineyards in areas with continental climatic characteristics, notably the sharp temperature fluctuations during the vegetation season, with sharp daytime fluctuations and sharp falls in temperature during the night.

Continental terroirs receive little rainfall during the summer and so irrigation of the vineyards becomes necessary during the crucial months of ripening. Lowland vineyards in Central Greece, including those of Attiki (Attica), and some on plateaus far from the sea and other water masses (such as those of Mantinia and the Nemea uplands in the Peloponnese) are found in terroirs with continental climatic features. The vineyards of the continental terroirs are normally planted in deep, fertile soil on smooth terrain. The long vegetation season at low altitudes favors late harvested varieties, primarily red. At higher altitudes, by contrast, the lower night temperatures favor the white varieties, intensifying their aromatic characteristics (Mantinia). Due to the greater variations in the climate, the harvests from continental terroirs differ more widely than those from the coastal areas.

Coastal Terroirs

Vineyards have been planted along the endless stretches of coastline in both continental and island regions of Greece since ancient times. The favorable influence of the sea on coastal terroirs is owed to the great thermal inertia of seawater, that is, to its considerable capacity for heat storage. Thus, the vineyards’ proximity to the sea blunts the daytime temperature peaks and creates meso-climates which are gentler to vines than those of continental areas of the same latitude and altitude. Additionally, the cool and moist sea breezes permanently blowing through coastal terroirs during the hot hours of the day mitigate the heat the grapes are subjected to and improve the light they receive, thus facilitating their gentle ripening. The beneficial impact of these breezes can reach areas hundreds of kilometers away from the coastline if they are not obstructed by mountain massifs.

The coastal terroirs of Thrace (Avdira, Maronia), Kavala and Halkidiki in northern Greece, Anchialos and Fthiotida in Central Greece, Patras and Trifilia in the Peloponnese, Crete and virtually all the islands of the Aegean and Ionian Seas, owe many of their vine growing attributes to their proximity to the sea. Equally beneficial to viticulture is the effect of lakes and rivers. Nevertheless, due to their smaller water mass, it is limited to short distances from the water. Examples of Greek vineyards near lakes and rivers are fewer, the most characteristic ones being those of Amynteo in Florina district which are near four lakes (Vegoritida and Petron are the two largest), and those of Messenikola, near the artificial Lake Plastira in Thessalia (Thessaly).

Volcanic Terroirs

Greek volcanic terroirs are found mostly in the vineyards of Santorini, where vines are planted on a white layer consisting of lava, Therean ash and pumice, whose depth varies from 30 to 50 meters and has been deposited there by the successive eruptions of the volcano through time immemorial. As a result, the soil of the island’s vine growing areas is deep and sandy with a complete absence of organic matter and thus not susceptible to phylloxera.

This “mother” lode enriches the soil with calcium, magnesium, ferrous iron and silicium but is poor in potassium which may serve to explain the especially high acidity the grapes have at their ripening peak. The soil’s low fertility and moisture capacity is offset by the capacity vine roots have to penetrate deep into the ground due to the soil’s loose composition. Indeed, since every 80 years or so the basket-shaped vines (kouloures) are pruned back down to the ground so that the “basket” may be revitalized, the true age and actual depth of the roots of Santorini vines remain unknown.