12 August 2019

2019 Harvest in Santorini: Trouble in Paradise

The harvest just started in Santorini a few days ago, and although it is just the beginning, it seems as though it will be a very tiny one. Predictions from all producers speak of a pocket harvest; less than 1000 tons of grapes, in total, when in ideal conditions this is 3000 tons. 

Nevertheless, quality seems high, but my feeling is prices will be difficult to control, despite the fact that producers seem eager to do so. For the 2018 harvest prices per kilo ranged between 4.5-4.7 euros. 

It seems that this vintage will be a critical one for the island of Santorini. Many questions have arisen concerning prices, quantities, protection of the product, better communication between the producers, and many more; no answers can be given for the moment. 

To get a better idea of the situation I interviewed key producers and their views follow:

Yiannis Paraskevopoulos (Gaia Wines)

“Due to fierce winds that exceeded 11 Beaufort during flowering and the prolonged drought of the previous years, we are witnessing unbelievable yields of 4.5 hl/ha; the normal yield would have been about 17 hl/ha. It is a catastrophe for the island. My prediction is 800 tons of grapes, which is about half of the 1600 tons of 2018 and less than a third of the 2600 tons of 2016. 

I would like to touch on a couple of things. Firstly, that despite the dramatic increase of Assyrtiko grapes (+453% the 7 last years) we continue to see a decrease in grape production (-3,7%/year on average during the last 15 years!). Secondly, because of the tiny yields, growers seem to be whispering that there will be a further increase in prices. In 2018 it was 4.5 to 4.7 euros per kilo. I can see their point, but…

And lastly, wine producers are beginning to realise that they have reached a dead-end, since the cost of production is ~ 9,5 €/bottle, whereas the wholesale price is around 11,0 € (average domestic/international). These figures are real, by the way. Add to this that markets are showing fatigue and they are reluctant to absorb the increases. The wineries still have stocks of the 2018 vintage in their cellars, which range from 10-70%, and this stock has been left over after two very low production vintages. What would have happened if 2018 had been a productive vintage?”

Yiannis Valampous (Vassaltis Wines)

“Our vineyards in Vourvoulos have yielded about 50% less than they did last year. Yields are approximately 6 hl/ha. It is scary, but it is what it is… On the up side, quality seems to be outstanding.” 

Yiannis Tselepos (Cnava Chrissou -Tselepos)

“This is my 45th harvest and I have always faced difficulties with a smile. What our viticulturist Mr Pelekanos and I have seen this year is a decrease of about 60%. Our prediction is about 800-900 tons for the entire island. It is a dramatic situation” 

Nikos Varvarigos (Santo Cooperative)

“Sunday was the second day of the harvest for us and the situation reminded me of 1991 and 1994 when we had the lowest yields (223 tons in ’91, and 250 in ’94. Our usual yield for Santo would be around 1000 tons). Although we are at the start of the harvest, the situation does not seem very positive. Yesterday, I went to a nice vineyard of 0.4 ha and there were no grapes at all. Unbelievable. The explanation lies in the fierce winds of March 30 (7-8 B from the North), April 9 (7-8 B from Southeast) and May 5 & 6 (7-8 B from Southeast) during flowering and the prolonged drought of previous years. Concerning prices, we will try to control them but we will see...''

Vamvakouri Ioanna (Mikra Thira)

“It is a particularly awkward situation and something we see for the first time. We, in Thirassia, experienced a slight increase in yields, 3 hl/ha, because we control the 4,5ha we own ourselves. It will be a tough vintage for those who need a lot of grapes.”

Paris Sigalas (Sigalas Estate)

“Yesterday we had our first pressing and my feeling is that quality-wise it is going to be an outstanding vintage. But…. Last year we thought we had reached rock bottom, but with this year’s yield we discovered that there is no bottom at all. Ι have never seen such low yields. Last year the whole island harvested 1650 tons and this year it will be around 1000. That’s it. We have abandoned the Santorini vineyard; the bad weather conditions are not the only thing to blame. There is also the issue of all the new wineries, which have created much pressure.” 

Matthew Argyros (Argyros Estate)

“What can I say? It is crazy. We go to the vineyards and there are no grapes. From our normal 25 hl/ha we will be down to 7 hl/ha and this will mean just 1000 tons. It will take a lot of courage from all of us.” 

Aposotolos Moudrichas (Avantis Estate)

''It is a very challenging vintage for the island with tremendously low yields. We will see where it will lead us but it is more of a nightmare for the moment.''

Lefteris Anagnostou (Karamolegos Winery)

“We started on the 8th of August with Assyrtiko and Athiri from the lower parts and we have harvested Monolithos, Vothonas and Kamari so far. Tomorrow we will be in Akrotiri and Messaria, with the main harvest around the 15th of August from Pyrgos and Megalochori. So, it is kind of early for predictions, although the first samples present a dramatic decrease in yields. The initial prediction of a 30% decrease compared to last year seems very optimistic. My prediction will be around 1000 tons, but not all vineyards show the same results. In Kamari, for example, we harvested 5 hl/ha in one vineyard and 15 hl.ha in another. The estimate is approximately 900 tons. On another note, the quality is excellent; very healthy grapes, excellent ripeness and maturity, grapes have more weight compared to last year, and excellent ph and acidity.” 

George Gavalas (Gavalas Wines)

“We are trying to control prices, but we will have to wait and see. I have never seen anything like this. Maybe in 1991, but to a lesser extent. What will we do with the rare varieties such as Katsano? It has fallen by 50-60% and I estimate that the total production will be around 850 tons.''

*Photo: Canava Chrissou-Tselepou Facebook

Comments
Submitted on 08/20/2019 - 18:04 by Moshe Cohen
I visited Santorini in late April, early May and visited a few producers. I was alarmed by comments by some, that recent years were disastrous for Santorini as yields are going down to alarming levels. If ,as you say Yiannis, the stocks of old vintages are still high, maybe this is an opportunity to sell those wines and free some cash that will help dealing with the crisis that is upon them? Maybe blending some Cyclades PDO wines under a winter's own label to make up for the losses? I'm also keen to know how Assyrtiko on Tinos and Mylos had fared.
Submitted on 08/14/2019 - 11:07 by yiannis
Prolonged draught from the previous vintages...this year's heavy rainfall relieved water stress and increased water deposits but this will likely be shown next year. For the rest, every terroir is different and I am not the best person in answering speculations and theories. Santorini is a PDO applicable to specific regulations of sourcing grapes. On the other hand if you read carefully the text you will see that there are stocks of previous vintages UNSOLD. So what would have happen with 3000 tons? Just asking...
Submitted on 08/13/2019 - 13:55 by Nicolas Papageorgiou (East & Wine - Brussels)
Some comments and questions: - the remote observer that I am had in mind that the 2019 spring had been more rainy than usual in Greece. As a result, I would have thought that the yields would have been higher than usual or at least higher than last year. Obviously, Santorini hasn't benefited from or been exposed to these rain events. - There are some assyrtiko growers in Tinos and Lemnos, are they facing the same issue of low yields? - Is there a risk that mainland assyrtiko could be used to supplement the unusually low production of Santorini? It might be done in a transparent way though, by simply releasing varietal wines. On the other hand, given that the high quality of the grapes this year on Santorini, it would be a non-sense to dilute this quality with grapes originating from outside Santorini. All the best to the winemakers who are facing this challenging situation!
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