Monday, June 7, 2010

Lanzarote Wine Growing Region

Probably the biggest surprise of my visit to Lanzarote was finding large-scale wine cultivation. Like most, I'm guessing, my idea of wine growing was rows and rows of vines suspended on wires. It's what you see all over California and what I saw when I was in Bordeaux, France a few years ago. Well, growing wine grapes is done completely different in the Canary Islands.

Wine has been made in the area since the 1500's and really kicked into gear when America was discovered and ships were crossing the Atlantic. Everything was great until a large eruption happened in the 1700's that covered most of the best farming lands on the island. Since necessity is the mother of invention, the farmers quickly figured out that the newly deposited volcanic rock (called picon) made an excellent "mulch". The picon absorbs water at night and deposits it directly on the roots of the plant and, as a bonus, requires less water to cultivate.

What is most striking, as I sort of mentioned above, is how the vines are grown differently here. Each single vine is planted at the base of a roughly three-foot-deep hole that has a small wall built partially around it. Many parts of the island look like they've been hit with thousands of meteors since there are holes everywhere. Here's a shot showing the effect from a distance:

The hole and wall serve to protect the vine from strong, dry winds that are frequent visitors in the area. This photo shows a close-up of one of the vines in its hole with a wall partly surrounding it.

Here's a close-up of a vine with some grapes on it. In this one, you get an idea of the size of the picon that covers the entire area:

I like this view from one of the wineries across a valley. "Craters" cover the entire valley floor and run part way up both sides.

A couple of parts of the winery are completely familiar. The tasting room was typical as were the store rooms.

There are three (I believe) major types of wine produced in the Canary Islands. Malvasia is a dry white wine that I found to be super good, even after a few bottles... :-) It makes up roughly 75% of the wine grown there. Another white, which is sweeter, is called Moscatel. I'm not as big of a fan of sweet wines so I didn't have anything outside the tasting room. Finally, they produce a red, which was good but I was much more into the Malvaisa.

One winery even goes so far to say that the wine from the islands celebrates the intersection of earth, wind, and fire. I'm not sure that a reference to 70's disco music does the wine justice but I'll overlook it and keep drinking a new-found favorite.

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