Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 28

A CAT RELAXES POOLSIDE IN THE QUIET
OF EARLY MORNING, AS CRUISE SHIPS
STEAM INTO THE CALDERA BELOW. IN
THE HEIGHT OF SUMMER, THERE MAY
BE FIVE OR SIX LARGE SHIPS DAILY, DISCHARGING WELL OVER 10,000 PEOPLE.

I

t's still quiet on the paths of Fira, Santorini's capital city.
At dawn in May, only the stray cats are up, lounging
around the swimming pools that most every new hotel
sports these days. In the caldera below, cruise ships plow
through the water toward the port. As soon as they discharge their passengers, the town's narrow paths will be
swarming with tourists. In 2018, the island welcomed
more than two million overnight guests-not including
the boat-going day-trippers.
Santorini has never been so popular-and that goes for the island's
wines as well: Over the last five years, five new wineries have opened,
and others have expanded their facilities to include tasting rooms and
restaurants-a rarity ten years ago. There are now 18 wineries competing for 2,300 acres of vines. Santo Wines, the cooperative, functions
as the island's defacto visitors' center, now seeing more than a million
visitors a year.
The boom, however, has its downsides. Always desperately dry, the
volcanic island's meager water supply has all but evaporated, necessitating shipments from the mainland. Yet luxury hotels and houses
continue to go up, further stressing the infrastructure and driving up
costs. At this point, several vintners tell me, they can't afford to hire
extra help for the summer, because there's no place to put them; as
it is, seasonal workers often bunk together, sleeping in shifts. And
there's even a question of how long many vintners can afford to keep
making wine: Since few of the island's wineries own enough vineyard
land to support their production, anyone with a small patch of vines
is in a position to name their price for grapes. In 2018, that price was
five euros a kilo-up from 80 cents five years ago. As one winemaker
remarked to me, "No one-no one-ever calculated grape prices like
28

WINE & SPIRITS

AUGUST 2019

this into their business plan."
The upside? The competition has forced vintners to take a close
look at their vines and ask themselves: Just what is a great Santorini?

M

atthew Argyros walks through one of his vineyards, crouching down to pull a few shoots off the vines nestled low
to the ground. "Forget everything you know about vines
when you come to Santorini," he says. Assyrtiko, the
island's main grape variety, has many quirks, and it takes experience
to understand, he says. "You know those huge old-vine baskets you
see in photos?" he asks, referring to the sort often used as decoration
in wineries. "That's lazy vinegrowing."
Wait a minute. For all the years I've been coming here, people
have been proudly pointing out thick, gnarled basket-shaped rounds
of vines as proof of their age and tradition. Age, sure, but tradition,
maybe not so much, he says. It takes energy to get nutrients from root
to fruit; why would you let your vines tap themselves out?
Instead, he says, crouching down in the stony, sandy white soil,
you want to prune them hard-assyrtiko is a vigorous vine, in fact,
and shoots will come out everywhere, even the trunk. The important
part to sustain is the root system; since phylloxera can't survive in the
sandy soils here, the vines have never been grafted to other rootstocks.
Some of the root systems date back hundreds of years. To ensure the
plants don't waste their energy above ground, Argyros and his team
keep them neatly pruned, twisting the new growth into small circular
crowns to help the vines withstand the harsh winds that blow across
the sun-blasted landscape. When the vine does tire-at, say, 80, 90,
100 years old-they'll lop off its top and mound dirt over the stump;
the plant grows back, rejuvenated. Or they'll bury a shoot in the soil



Wine & Spirits - August 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Wine & Spirits - August 2019

Contents
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - Cover1
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - Cover2
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 1
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 2
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 3
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 4
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - Contents
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 6
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 7
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 8
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 9
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 10
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 11
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 12
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 13
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 14
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 15
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 16
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 17
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 18
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 19
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 20
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 21
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 22
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 23
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 24
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 25
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 26
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 27
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 28
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 29
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 30
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 31
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 32
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Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 36
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 37
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 38
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 39
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 40
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 41
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 42
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Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 49
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Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 51
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Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 53
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 54
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 55
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 56
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 57
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 58
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Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 60
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Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 65
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Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 67
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 68
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 69
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 70
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 71
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 72
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 73
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Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 76
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 77
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 78
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - 79
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Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - Cover3
Wine & Spirits - August 2019 - Cover4
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