Santorini vineyards hit by unprecedented rainfall

Unparalleled amounts of winter rain followed by unusually harsh winds have brought worries for Santorini's winemakers in the 2019 growing season.

Santorini, an island that spends most of its year in quasi-desert conditions, has never looked so fecund.

In the three months of January, February and March 2019, the average rainfall on the island was 550 mm – almost twice the annual rainfall of 300 mm.

Santorini has ‘bakingly high temperatures and virtually no rainfall‘, according to Decanter’s guide to the island, so winemakers were not prepared for the excessive rain.

‘It is wrong to say that we expect high production if we have high rainfall,’ says Lefteris Anagnostou, of the independent Karamalegos Winery.

Santorini’s hugely successful wine industry is based on the kouloura, a basket shape that vines are wound into at ground level.

This low-lying circle not only protects grapes from the vicious hot winds that can sweep over the island, from but traps moisture from the sea mists that pervade the island at night.

However, so much rain into the koulouras could be counterproductive to the growth of the vines.

‘The major benefit is that the water table has now been replenished and that vines have enough soil moisture to grow,’ said Yannis Valambous, who launched Vassaltis Vineyard in the extremely dry year of 2015.

‘But excessive water can sometimes be a problem when it occurs during growing season as it may lead to mildew. Mildew is a very difficult disease to combat on the island of Santorini as there are no trellises and the pruning system – kouloura- means difficult access to the vines.’

Concerns were increased when the heavy rain was subsequently followed by unusually destructive winds.

‘Grape production could still be low because of the strong winds that blew for a few days this May and ruined the buds,’ said Markos Kafouros, president of the Santo Wines Cooperative.

‘All wine growers are prey to the weather but here on Santorini we are more vulnerable than most.’

In 2018, Santorini winemakers were also hit with the issue of significant price increases for grapes.