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Concern on Santorini as Assyrtiko grape prices rocket

Assyrtiko grape prices on Santorini have spiked this year, leading to concerns among some producers that the Greek island could lose out in the market.

Prices for Santorini Assyrtiko grapes haven risen to €5 per kilo this year, up from €3.4 per kilo last year and having once been as low as 80 cents, according to growers.

There is now concern that the market might say ‘enough is enough’, according to Yiannis Valambous, of Vassaltis Winery.

Berry Bros & Rudd (BBR) has said so already. Although wines from Santorini are ‘spectacularly good and the top wines will sell’, said BBR buyer Demetri Walters MW, ‘we have stopped buying Assyrtiko from Santorini [for the time being] because grape prices have become unreasonably high’.

Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, owner of Gaia Estate, said that a 50% drop in rainfall this year so far, to 77mm down from 170mm at the same point of 2017, has shrunk the harvest in 2018.

Another factor is the proportion of low yielding, older vines, according to Stela Kasiola, of the cooperative winery Santo. She called for plantings of more robust, younger vines to increase yields.

Several winemakers also criticised inconsistent quality from independent growers.

‘You will have one grower who farms grapes as his only business and does a good job to get the five euros per kilo,’ said Paraskevopoulos.

‘But then another person tends to a vineyard only as a secondary business and may not take as much care of the vines as he should, but claims the same market price.’

Paraskevopoulos believes that a standard setting authority, ‘such as the CIVC in Champagne by which winemakers and growers agree a set of criteria for grape growing techniques and grape quality’, would help to ensure higher yields and consistency.

Some growers have considered dropping the koulouri vine training method that has become synonymous with Santorini vines; a basket-weaved shape to minimise wind damage during flowering and to protect against sunburn.

Guyot pruning has been suggested as an alternative. ‘I think it is not a matter of better quality, but it would improve yields for sure,’ said Konstantinos Lazarakis MW, a wine educator based in Athens.

He added that the highly regarded Domaine Sigalas had introduced vineyard posts and training wires for Guyot pruning and trellising on the island.

Up until this year, the market has adjusted to price increases, because ‘Assyrtiko has been historically underrated’, said Paraskevopoulos.

But upping yields is a concern for all today, as merchants like Walters buy non-Santorini Assyrtiko alternatives.

‘For a wine with as much lemon freshness and saline appeal, that is easier to understand, and that is better value for the on-trade particularly, we source an excellent Assyrtiko from Lyrarakis in Crete,’ he said.

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