Greek viticultural history began, so to speak, with a fling of the supreme god Zeus with the beautiful Seméle (daughter of Harmonia, goddess of concord), which led to the birth of Dionysus, the god of wine, joy, grapes, fertility and ecstasy. Ancient Greece, or rather the island of Crete in particular, due to archaeological findings, is considered one of the "cradles of European wine culture". Already in the Mycenaean culture in the 16th century B.C. (Mycenae = northeastern Peloponnese) there was viticulture, as indicated by the amphorae found. Wine was an important part of the drinking culture of everyday life. The Greeks were among the very first to use wine as a valuable trading commodity. Already the poet Homer (8th century B.C.) reports in the Iliad about wine as the domestic drink of the described heroes. Furthermore, the historians Hesiod (~750-680 B.C.), the philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), the naturalist Theophrastos (370-287 B.C.) and the physician Galen (129-216) dealt with wine and viticulture.
On their colonization campaigns in the Mediterranean, the Greeks brought their vines and viticulture culture to Sicily, to southern Italy known as Oinotria, to southern France and to the Black Sea. Many methods were adopted by the Celts and Romans. The Roman poet Vergil described the variety of grape varieties: "It would be easier to count the grains of sand in Greece than the different grape varieties" In the late Middle Ages, under the rule of Venice, the famous port city of Monemvasia on the Peloponnese peninsula was a widely used transshipment point for sweet wines from the Aegean Sea, which were shipped from here to many European countries. From the 15th to the middle of the 19th century the Ottomans ruled the country, during this time wine lost its importance due to the Muslim prohibition of alcohol, only on most islands it was continued on a relatively small scale. Therefore some knowledge was preserved.
It was not until a long time after independence in 1830 and the suppression of Turkish influence that Greece began to take a professional interest in viticulture as an economic factor again and reactivated numerous vineyards at great expense. Among the pioneers were also some Germans, such as Gustav Clauss, who in 1861 founded the still existing huge Achaia Clauss winery. By the end of the 19th century, the area under vines had doubled, but when phylloxera finally reached Greece in 1898, much was destroyed. The rebuilding was relatively slow, because in the meantime the demand for Greek wine had also decreased very much. Greek viticulture only experienced a renaissance with the end of the military dictatorship in 1974 and Greece's accession to the European Union in 1981.
Climate & Soil
Despite its strongly maritime character, Greece has a very high proportion of mountains. The soils of limestone, granite and volcanic rock and the predominant Mediterranean climate with short, damp and mild winters and dry and hot summers have a favourable effect on viticulture. The often dry autumns produce mostly fully ripe grapes with relatively little acidity. Most of the wine-growing areas are located near the coast with moderating sea breezes. To give the wines more structure, vineyards are deliberately planted at high altitudes. The vines can build up more extract and reach higher acidity levels due to the extended vegetation cycle. Another effective method of slowing down the ripening process is the deliberate planting of vineyards on northern slopes.
Viticulture is practised, often on a small scale on a few hectares, throughout Greece on the mainland and also on all the larger islands. The appellations(POP, formerly OPAP and OPE) are marked in red:
In 2012, the area under vines was 110,000 hectares, with a downward trend (in 2000 it was 131,000 hectares). Of these, 3.115 million hectolitres of wine were produced (see also under Wine production volumes). There are about 300 different autochthonous grape varieties, which account for 85% of the area. Only in a few cases are foreign varieties allowed in the quality wines. Large quantities of table grapes and raisins are also produced; the most important variety is Korinthiaki. Even today, viticulture is still characterised by original flavours. About 60% are high alcohol white wines. 90% of the wines are dry. The grape variety table 2010 (statistics Kym Anderson):
Following the French model, designations of origin controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture were introduced between 1971 and 1972 for the best production areas: Maximum yields per hectare, certain vine varieties with a preference for autochthonous varieties, minimum must weight, ageing regulations and sensory tests. Enriching the must with sugar is in principle permitted, but may increase the alcohol content by a maximum of 2.5% vol. Sweetening may be added before and during fermentation up to a maximum of 25% of the must sugar. Acidification is also permitted and is often practised due to the rather low acidity of the grapes. Controls are carried out by the KEPO (Central Committee for the Protection of Wine Production).
In August 2009, the EU wine market regulation became valid for all member countries with fundamental changes in wine designations and quality levels (see also under quality system). Although the traditional terms OPAP, OPE and OKP can still be used alternatively, most winemakers use the new term POP:
Oinos (formerly Epitrapezios Oinos or table wine) = wine
Oinos / Οίνος: Wines without a specific designation of origin. This lowest quality level mostly consists of blends from different growing regions.
PGE / ΠΓΈ (Prostatevomenis Geografikis Endixis / Προστατευόμενης Γεωγραφικής Ένδειξης): Country wine with protected geographical indication. There are about 80 country wine areas, which can cover an entire region, a district or a municipal area. A well-known area is Agioritikos on the "Holy Mountain" on Athos (peninsula Chalkidikí).
POP / ΠOΠ (Prostatevomenis Onomasías Proelefsis / Προστατευόμενης Ονομασίας Προέλευσης): Quality wine with protected designation of origin. Alternatively, the old designations OPAP, OPE and OKP are also possible.
OPAP / ΟΠΑΠ (Onomasía Proelefséos Anotéras Piótitos / Ονομασία Προελεύσεως Ανωτέρας Ποιότητος): For these quality wines with a "higher quality designation of origin", maximum yield, minimum alcohol content, ageing time in barrel and bottle, etc. are prescribed. OPAP wines were marked with a red banderole until the 2015 vintage.
OPE / ΟΠΕ (Onomasía Proelefséos Eleghoméni / Ονομασία Προελεύσεως Ελεγχόμενη): These quality wines with "controlled designation of origin" are subject to the same conditions as OPAP wines. However, there are more stringent requirements regarding sugar content. This means that sweet wines from the historical areas of Kefallonia, Limnos, Patras, Rhodes and Samos are declared. Either they are "natural sweet wines" sprinkled with spirit of wine or "natural sweet wines" pressed from dried grapes, which correspond to a Trockenbeerenauslese. The OPE wines were labelled with a blue banderole until the 2015 vintage.
OKP / ΟκΠ (Onomasía Katá Parádosi / Ονομασία κατά παράδοση = Traditional Appellation): A special label for wines with protected origin produced with traditional pressing methods. There are only two of them, the retsina and the verdea produced on the island of Zakynthos.
Kava (Cava): Name (German cellar or "eingekellert") for a wine of the highest quality that has been stored for a longer period of time. White wines must have been aged for two years (of which at least 6 months in the barrel and 6 months in the bottle), red wines for three years (of which at least 6 months in new oak or 1 year in used oak and 2 years in the bottle).
Reserve (Epilegmenos) and Grande Reserve (Idika Epilegmenos): Only permitted for quality wines (OPAP and OPE). Reserve is valid for white wines aged two years (for 6 months in barrel and 6 months in bottle) and for red wines aged three years (same minimum). Grande Reserve is valid for white wines with at least three years (for 1 year in the barrel and 1 year in the bottle) and for red wines with at least four years of ageing (for 2 years in the barrel and 2 years in the bottle).