Central Greece is one of the most fascinating wine producing regions of Greece, if not of the entire world of wine. It has complex topography and soils, with this complexity clearly depicted in the plethora of wine styles produced here. Central Greece’s terroir, however, has many more elements than the mountains, the valleys, and the soil composition of its vineyards.
This region’s terroir is proof that this term should include many more factors. It is not just the morphology or the climate, but also the varieties and, most of all, the people.
One may devote an entire lifetime to the understanding of Central Greece’s wineland and still might not succeed. Nevertheless, the issue is not the understanding but ultimately the appreciation of the wines produced by this exceptional area.
Central Greece is one of the most mountainous regions in Europe. The mountains here define the land, and consequently the wines that are produced by each sub-region. The existence of mountain ranges is enriched by a number of other characteristics which create a truly unique outcome.
Most mountainous regions begin at already high altitudes and go even higher. Central Greece has some of the highest peeks in the Balkans, however they are located a small distance from areas of lower altitudes, and/or shorelines. The landscape expresses a truculence, which is logical given the seismic nature of the region, which swiftly alternates between contradicting expressions of the terroir.
The next level of complexity is the adjacency to bodies of water. Several mountainous areas have lakes and rivers; however these bodies of water have limited interference with the climate and the mesoclimate. Central Greece has lakes and rivers, and the sea essentially surrounds three of its four sides. The Ionian Sea on the west, is responsible for the low temperatures, the rain and the humidity, and the Gulf of Corinth from the south brings in the fog, while the Aegean Sea along with a series of gulfs in the east is responsible for the sunshine and the winds.
In the world of wine there are regions, much larger regions than Central Greece, that are less diverse, something that is clearly depicted in the wines.
It is difficult to talk about the climate of Central Greece.
There is no single climate that characterizes the entire region, but thousands of different mesoclimates.
The vast changes in altitude, the inclines, the exposure of the slopes, the presence of many and very unique bodies of water, from small rivers to lakes and gulfs and the Ionian and Aegean seas, naturally create a rare climate mosaic. There are areas with a Cycladic climate and areas where the climate is close to that of Macedonia. Attica and Thebes have parts where the climate is almost continental and other parts that are the warmest and the driest in Greece.
The alternations in altitude lead to intense temperature shifts, the bodies of water affect the temperature, the humidity, but the landscape that imposes the local winds, possibly creates the most interesting elements of Central Greece’s climate.
The higher altitudes can be characterized as Alpine climates.
Wine lovers as well as wine professionals enjoy dealing with wine producing regions that have a uniform type of soil. Quite possibly because it is easier to remember or corelate the region with the characteristics of the wine. Central Greece is not the place for them.
Central Greece is one of the most seismic regions on the planet and usually in cases like this it is difficult to talk about a main type of soil. The capacity and the mobility of earth’s crust not only leads to an intense topography, but to different soils coexisting within small distances. It is clear that there is no main type of soil even in relatively limited areas, while several vineyards are located in four, five or even more different types of soil.
There is significant diversification in the fertility of the soil in Central Greece. It is one of the few regions in Greece that has several areas of fertile grounds, mainly in the valleys. These are not often used for viticulture, as other cultivations provide greater economic yields. At the same time, it hosts some of the most infertile soils in Europe, mainly but not exclusively at higher altitudes that are provided by the numerous mountains.
This is where the wines of Central Greece thrive.
The grape varieties are a significant link – an interpreter between a land and its wines, that will ultimately be produced there. In the past years, the people of wine often tend to underestimate their role, possibly as a reaction to the praise they were dealt during the 1990’s and later, as the grape was then recognized as the most vital characteristic of a label’s commercial identity. However, at the same time, the varieties are a tradition, a treasure that ought to be explored and above all protected.
The varieties that are cultivated in Central Greece belong to three categories – local, international, and Greek varieties that have been transferred here from other regions of our country.
There is no doubt that international varieties as well as the Greek varieties from other regions have acclimatized exceptionally well in many areas of Central Greece. These two groups are required to cover the consumer needs and to prove that the local producers can compete outside of “their scope”. But, they are definitely also cultivated because they give us marvelous wines.
There are some objections to whether varieties that have emerged from a specific area, Xinomavro for example from Northern Greece or Asyrtiko from Santorini, should be transferred to other regions. This turn of events has not occurred by accident nor curiosity, but is a necessary fermentation for the comprehension of the capacity of Greek varieties, in the same exact way that French varieties, ultimately became international.
Naturally, the tremendous heritage of Central Greece is the local varieties, the varieties that are cultivated on a small or large scale for centuries. They are the high points of the diversification of Central Greece’s wines, and the producers have already provided us with world class testaments to that fact. Nevertheless, in addition to their current significance, they are beacons for the future as well. The viticulturists have realized their gravity and are investing in developing their potential, discovering new quality clones and/or even isolating varieties that have remained unknown until now.
What is definite is that the future of viticulture in Central Greece will be an even more complex and alluring landscape than it is today.
The most important element of a region’s terroir is quite possibly its people. And the proof of this statement is to be found in Central Greece, in its viticulturists and wine makers.
The vast majority of the people who work in vineyards and wine in Central Greece are in the area that their family has lived in for decades. This provides a significant advantage. On the one hand, their genes have a deep understanding of the region they are called upon to imprint in their wines. On the other hand, they see themselves as continuers, as mediators in an endeavor that unfolds not at the pace of semesters, but at the pace of generations.
However, these producers are surely not attached to tradition, as they were the catalysts of fundamental changes within the past decades. From the 1990’s it became clear that emphasis on quality was the only way to go. The easy part was the modernization of the winery. The hard part, which however in Central Greece became quite easy, was the diversification of the vines. Plantings in robust valleys were performed with a completely different perspective, providing a head start in specific grapes as well as quality clones. High yields per hectare stopped being an objective and the appreciation of lower yields per hectare opened the road for reapproaching old vines.
There are very few wine producing countries in the world where a shift towards quality has occurred so fast. The vineyards and the wines of Central Greece are, and have been for decades, in the best hands they could possibly be in.
Master of Wine