Old vines are spread throughout different Greek PDO and PGI regions and are a common feature of Greece’s vineyards. Be it in the region of PGI Attiki (ΠΓΕ Αττική), the 50+ bush vines of Savatiano grape planted after phylloxera has passed, or the centenarian old basket-trained “kouloures” in Santorini, these vines hide a great ampelographic heritage that is unique to Greece.
In more isolated areas, such as the southern part of Crete, field-blends of old, bush-trained vines are planted to almost extinct grape varieties that the new generation of Greek winemakers are keen to explore. The mountainous part of Achaia, the so-called PGI Slopes of Aigialia (ΠΓΕ Πλαγιές Αιγιαλείας) is also a treasure chest of ancient grape varieties that were preserved from old vine-growers and nowadays are re-discovered and add to the diversity of the Greek vineyard.
Cephalonia (Kefalonia) and the Ionian islands are also home to a great number of old vines from rare indigenous grape varieties. In the most remote Greek regions phylloxera didn’t arrive and thus a number old, own-rooted, vines have been preserved. In other regions, such as Santorini or Amyndeon, due to the sandy soils, phylloxera cannot survive. Where phylloxera did not manage to attack the vines, there is still a significant number of old vines.
In many cases old-vines are perfectly adapted to their local environment. For example, the old Savatiano vines in Attiki are extremely resistant to the dry, warm climatic conditions of the region. Very often, such old vineyards display a great biodiversity among the vines, contributing to great complexity and enhancing the sense of terroir in the wines.
The term old vines, vieilles vignes, or similar, indicate an old vineyard on the label. According to the Greek wine law, the use of these terms in PDO and PGI wines applies only to ungrafted vines with a minimum age of 40 years old.
Greece is not just about the blue of the Aegean and the Ionian Sea, as this is most of the times what is has been imprinted into visitor’s mind. Greece is predominantly mountainous and almost 80% of its total acreage is covered by high mountains. Mountains exist not only in mainland Greece but also in the islands. For example, mountains account for a large proportion of Crete, the largest Greek island, forming a spine that runs across the island from west to east. Mountain Ainos is also an imposing figure of Cephalonia and in its slopes lies the vineyard of Robola.
Mainland Greece is dominated by the Pindos Mountain range which is an extension of the Central European Alps and forms an arc that continues to the southeastern part of the Peloponnese. The PDO Zitsa vineyard (ΠΟΠ Ζϊτσα) is located in the highlands of the Pindos mountains. Olympus, the highest peak in Greece, is located east of Pindos and close to the sea. On its slopes stretches the beautiful vineyard of Rapsani. Consequently, a great majority of the Greek vineyards are found on the slopes of the hills and the mountains. These mountains, provide high elevations that escape much of the summer heat and a sheer number of different altitudes, aspects and soils suitable for grape-growing. In many cases altitude is more important than latitude.
A typical example of the above is the vineyard of PDO Mantinia (ΠΟΠ Μαντινεία) which rests in the heart of Peloponnese. Although the latitude is southern, the vineyard plateau is located at an altitude of 660m, above sea-level. As a result, Moschofilero grape is capable of producing low in alcohol and full of freshness wines that are close in terms of style to a central European wine than a Mediterranean one.
At a point when the world-market is looking after finesse and elegance and the climate change leads to a constant rise of alcohol levels, the Greek mountains offer the possibility to Greeks winemakers to produce wines that are bursting with energy and freshness. However, working a mountainous vineyard is labor intensive and needs great effort and dedication from the grower. And this should be always part of the discussion.
Greek producers are already discussing the impacts of climate change and this is a “trendy” and much worried discussion among the industry members. Climate change is not just about the global warming. With so much depending on the soils, the slopes orientation, the grape variety and all those factors that determine the local terroir, the impact of climate change on the grapes and the wines can be very different.
Increasingly, severe weather – especially late spring frosts, violent hail storms, severe droughts, prolonged heatwaves and frequent flooding – are proving nightmares for winemakers as well as other crop growers. A combination of earlier ripening and spring frosts significantly reduces the growth cycle of vines. In the longer term, it seems possible that varieties could gradually be changed because they may become unsuitable for their wine regions. Does this mean that Naoussa will become unsuitable for the production of Xinomavro in the future?
All the above create mixed feelings and such theories although existing will not apply any time soon. The positive thing is that Greece has a few great advantages against the severity of climate change and this is something that not every country can count on. First of all, it has a wealth of indigenous grape varieties found in the Greek vineyard. Many of these old grapes are extremely adapted to difficult wine-growing conditions. This vinodiversity is a major advantage against the rapid changes that climate change brings.
A second tool against the climate change is the mountainous topography of Greece. In warm regions, such as PGI Drama (ΠΓΕ Δράμα) producers are tackling climate change by planting new vineyards at higher altitudes. The increased alcohol levels and the loss of freshness can be counterbalanced by altitude, which delays the maturation process and leads to later harvests of technologically matured grapes.
Words such as sustainability, environmental protection, responsibility, awareness are heard more and more often among the conversations that take place. With a wonderful climate and human scale of production, Greece can contribute to the fight against the phenomenon of global warming.
Greece is among the first countries in the European Union that introduced wine laws in order to protect the identity and the reputation of its wine-growing regions. However, long before that, if someone could take a closer look into the Greece’s history, he would be able to see that the Greeks have been protecting their most famous wines since antiquity. In those wines, one can trace the earlier forms of wine protection and wine laws.
Back to the modern era, and Greece has 33 registered Protected Indications of Origin and 114 Protected Geographical Indications for its wines. These Geographical Indications (GIs) guarantee the origin of the wine as well as the accuracy of the given information in the labels and this is because the use of GIs is tightly controlled to ensure a wine is genuinely the product of grapes grown in a specific location and under very specific rules. Geographical Indications protect both the legitimate interests of consumers and producers. In one hand, they prevent “bad faith” usage and give consumers a guarantee of authenticity distinguishing the products on the market. On the other hand, they are a key part in protecting the quality, the reputation, the identity and the long-standing history of Greece’s wine regions.
PDO and PGI wines ensure that Greece’s cultural gastronomic and local heritage is preserved and certified as authentic across the world. So, the next time you will come across a wine that bears a PDO or PGI designation in the label such as PDO Santorini, PDO Nemea, PDO Naoussa or PGI Drama and PGI Slopes of Aigialia, you should be aware that you are dealing with a unique, authentic, branded product that guarantees and ensures the quality you have in your glass. Moreover, it is the product of laborious work and passion from authentic people that prize their terroirs and traditions.