Greek wine basics: history of the Peloponnese

The following post is the fourth in a series of Greek wine basics. It’s been transcribed from Konstantinos Lazarakis MW’s The Wines of Greece (London, Mitchell Beazley, 2005, currently out of print). While Lazarakis’ book is difficult to find these days, it remains THE number-one resource for information — technical and historical — on the wines of Greece. We highly recommend it. You’ll find an archive for our Greek Wine Basics series in the right-hand navigation of our home page.

Above: The ancient theater at Mantineia (Mantinia). Photo via the Wiki.

The Peloponnese must surely have been one of the first places on earth to systematically grow grapes and make wine. We know that viticulture has been present for at least 4,000 years — some claim as long as 7,000 years. Although export successes came later than for the Aegean Islands and Thrace, it outlasted many of these regions. The high point came during the Middle Ages, when the port of Monemvasia became world-renowned as the source of the famous Malvasia wine. Monemvasia remained vital for the Malvasia trade at least until the sixteenth century, even if, by that time, other Aegean Islands had become equally important. The next two centuries under Ottoman rule were extremely difficult, and viticulture was neglected. People began relocating to the key coastal areas, bringing vineyards with them.

A turning point in the viticultural history of the Peloponnese was the development of raisin plantations just after the end of the Ottoman rule in 1828. These lasted until the end of the phylloxera crisis. The region of Corinth was home to Corinthiaki, a variety capable of producing excellent raisins. At the time, the Peloponnese and the Ionian Island of Zakynthos had the exclusivity on Corinthiaki production. Thus, booming sales persuaded vine growers to plant more Corinthiaki vineyards. Corinthiaka vine is a difficult plant to grow: it is highly sensitive to all fungal diseases and responds very badly to rich soils, high-capacity sites, crowded canopies, and high crop loads. In essence, Corinthiaki requires top terroir and careful viticulture. Consequently, all wine grapes have been uprooted from the best parcels of land to make room for ore Corinthiaki. Even today, a century after the end of Corinthiaki’s Golden Age, there is no dilemma in a grower’s mind — planting a site with Corinthiaki can be as much as three times more profitable than growing wine grapes, even if the latter attracts top prices. This has been the area’s vine-growing curse. It is certain that without Corinthiaki the Peloponnese would have been a differnt, more diverse wine region.

Despite the difficulties, vine-growing persisted in the Peloponnese. Real growth emerged after World War II, mainly in the centre and the north, in Patras, Mantinia, Nemea, and the Corinthian coast.

Explore posts in the same categories: Boutari, Peloponnese

One Comment on “Greek wine basics: history of the Peloponnese”

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