Above: The so-called “apsa” subsoil of Santorini’s phylloxera-resistant terroir. Photo courtesy Wines from Santorini.
We’ve always loved this fascinating post by Wines of Santorini on the unique apsa soil of Santorini and the koulara method of “weaving” the vines to their baskets.
Because of the volcanic nature and very low clay content in Santorini’s soil, the island is essentially immune to phylloxera. That means that the rootstocks have never been grafted and the wine we drink today is from the same vines that have grown here for hundreds of years.
But this same soil is light and crumbly and easily blown by the winds from the ocean and can damage the delicate grapes. So the vineyardists of Santorini have developed a unique alternative to trellising…they weave the vines into a circular coil kept low on the ground. With this “Koulara” technique the grape bunches are trained to lay inside the protection of the basket and the leaves outside and above to protect them from the harsh sun and head.
As the vines get longer and longer they decline in productivity and need to be renewed. So every 50-100 years or so, the vines are cut back close to the soil and a new plant will sprout from a dormant eye in the old rootstock to begin the process anew.
When we spoke with Boutari winemaker and chief researcher Yannis Voyatzis, he explained that the grains of sand in the subsoil of Santorini are so small that the phylloxera insect is unable to “jump” from one grain to the next and thus cannot thrive there. It’s another one of the reasons that this harsh environment for grape-growing and winemaking creates such unique, distinctive wines.