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The Greek Wine Industry

Written by Jennifer Jordan
Filed Under: Wine Regions

When it comes to wine, it seems as though Greece should be well beyond every other region; after all, it is Greece, a country that is sometimes overheard bragging to Albania and Bulgaria about how it's the "birthplace of the modern world." However, Greece can't claim to be ahead of the rest of the word's vines, at least not anymore.

In the past, Greece had a huge impact on the wine industry, orchestrating wine trades to the lands of Europe (and likely being the first to make wine leaves worn in the hair a fashion statement).  The wines of the ancient world have the Greeks to thank, but recent times have found Greece somewhere it has never been before: behind the times.

The instability of the Greek wine industry is a result of the instability of Greece as a nation. After the ancient era and into the middle ages, Greece was governed by the Byzantine Empire and its wine was made by monks. Everything, for the time being, seemed cloaked in grapeness. But, when the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire, the fun, and the grapes, were spoiled.

For the next four hundred years, Greek winemaking drastically suffered. While the Ottoman Empire didn't outright make winemaking illegal, the regulations and taxes they imposed on it made the production of quality wine nearly impossible. When the Ottoman Empire eventually fell, Greece found its winemaking plagued by another kind of intruder: the phylloxera bug. This sap-sucking insect fed on and destroyed grapevines all over Greece and throughout Europe. By the time the insects were sent packing – with tiny eviction notices hanging on their nests – Greece's wine production was put on hold for more important matters: the Balkan wars and the World Wars.

It wasn't until the mid 1900's that the wines of Greece turned over a new leaf. Improved winemaking and viniculture techniques were implemented, better grapes were used, and more expensive means were utilized. The Greeks also began doing something they'd never done before: aging wine in oak barrels (move over wooden horses, wooden barrels are in the house). The result was a nation where the importance of producing quality wine trumped the importance of quantity.

Today, Greece's main focus is on white wine, though very good red wine is also produced in small amounts. Among whites, Muscat of Patras, Patras, and Santorini are some of the most important. Retsina, another white wine, is of particular importance; it has virtually turned into the country's national drink. On the red side of things, Archarnes, Naoussa, Rapsani, and Mavrodaphne of Patras, are a few types most often produced.

As demonstrated above, Greece is filled to the brim with a variety of wines. They, in part, have their climate to thank for this. Rainy weather typically doesn't disrupt harvesting and the plethora of sunlight allows for maximum ripening. However, the environment of Greece does have an Achilles heel: much of the land is not suitable for growing. For this reason, Greece is not a land filled with grapevine after grapevine. The parts of the country not taken up by mountains or not divided into islands is where the grapes are grown: this land is typically used to grow both grapevines and olive trees.

For those who hope to visit Greece, the wineries are open on a year round basis, with the exception of holidays and many of the tours are given in English upon request. The Greek wineries are some of the best to visit, if not for the history involved, then for the hospitable manner of the citizens...just try not to mention Constantinople.