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23 September 2021

Old vines in Santorini, an interview with vinegrower Nikolas Pelekanos

By Yiannis Karakasis MW

In a previous article, I discussed the need to protect old vines, and I emphasised that their management should be different from that of new vineyards. What do I mean by that? Pruning that avoids cuts in the old wood as well as ploughing to revitalise the soil. And indeed, the design and planting of the vineyard should be of particular architecture right from the start. I understand that these thoughts sound nice in theory, but in practice, the producer will come back and say that the grapes he gets are too few and the whole project is financially unprofitable (although scientific evidence may suggest the opposite). However, this does not justify uprooting an old vineyard of 60 or 80 or 100 years old, mainly if one considers that there is an ongoing discussion about Greek wine precisely because of these old vineyards. In my opinion, the maximum possible effort should be made to save such vineyards even if they bear little fruit. How we can achieve this is another matter and goes beyond the purpose of today's article. 

I would like this article to be an opportunity for further discussion regarding old vines. Therefore, I encourage you to watch the very recent interview by Santorini viticulturist Nikolas Pelekanos in the following video (with English subtitles) that explains his concerns about the old vineyards in Santorini. I assume that similar considerations relate to other areas of Greece. 

As we evolved as a society, we started protecting antiquities and old buildings. We showed care towards endangered species. So why don't we have the appropriate sensitivity for old vineyards that are our wine roots and heritage? 

It is clear that action is required from everyone in the field of Greek wine. Already in South Africa, they have established a certification mechanism through the Old Vine Project, and the Old Vine Conference continues to unite the old vineyards around the world vigorously. The game is on!

Central photo: Old vine in Santorini. Photo credit Nikos Koustenis from my book The Wines of Santorini.

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