A tour through Ilia’s and Achaia’s wine regions reveals a beautiful world of young and very old vines, a combination of excellent indigenous and international varieties, vertigo-inducing vineyards and lower lying spots for viticulture, as well as the contradiction between the imposing mountain tops and their proximity to the sea. A generation of soulful winemakers attracted by these excellent terroirs and the timeless feel of the land are working their “magic” to establish Achaia and Ilia wines across the world. The last two decades have witnessed a sustainable growth and there are so many interesting things that take place both in the vineyards and the winery.

Among the greatest changes seen throughout the last years, is a great focus on terroir. There is much more emphasis paid in the vineyard. Producers have an imperative to strengthen the uniqueness of terroir and produce wines that clearly speak of their origins. The increasing level of confidence in the cellars allows them to take a closer look at the vineyards, to exploit the terroirs and the largely untapped possibilities of the indigenous varieties.

Although there is much heterogeneity in Achaia and Ilia, the overall perfect Mediterranean climate creates excellent conditions for wine growing. Organic farming is easy, especially at high altitudes, and more producers are trying to preserve biodiversity in their vineyards.
This is achieved in many ways that are directly related to viticultural practices. Some producers work in a sustainable way, limiting spraying with herbicides and chemicals, while others practice organics and biodynamics in the fields. Even conventional growers, however, do not need to make many interventions because of the excellent climate. This is something that enhances the message of terroir.

On the high-altitude vineyards of Aigialia, there is an impressive number of preserved old vines. Before the arrival of modern viticultural advances, the common practice was to co-plant several different grapes in the same vineyards (field-blends).

These vineyards are prized not only for their ability to produce excellent wines but for the age of the vines and the viticultural traditions they represent.

For instance, old, low-yielding vines of Roditis grow in impressive tree-like formations (Goblet training) and such vineyards contain many different biotypes (natural clones) of the grape variety. In there, the drought-resistant, late-ripening Roditis enjoys ideal conditions for a long vegetative period and slow ripening, creating grapes with expressive aromas and high tension. Furthermore, older vines can give extra layers to the grape variety and greater depth. Vine age is considered to be important for Roditis and bush vines seem to suit the variety very well. Newer plantings wherever this is possible are preferably linear.

Older vineyards also provide “mother vines” for clonal research. There is an on-going effort to explore the potential and uniquess of local varieties such as Roditis and Mavrodaphni. The first results of clonal research are already planted in the vineyards and will provide a better understanding of the potential of these local grape varieties. The clonal research is combined with an initiative from some wineries to identify the sub-zones of diverse areas such as Aigialia region. This will help to fully understand and exploit the different available terroirs.

A limiting factor to the growth of Achaia and Ilia vineyards is that a substantial part of the land is dedicated to raisin production which is a traditional agricultural product in both regions. Some of the best viticultural spots are reserved for the demanding production of raisins. However the cultivation of raisins means that the average viticultural skills are very high. Raisins demand very low yields and discipline in the vineyard and this philosophy was transmitted to highly skilled vintners dedicated to making wines of superior quality.

Cool-climate viticulture – Slopes of Aigialia

Slopes of Aigialia is a mountainous terroir with different expositions, soils and altitudes. It hosts some of Greece’s highest elevation vineyards, up to 1050m above sea level. Cultivating the land can be very hard, this is actually a collection of micro-sites, rather than a homogeneous wine area and the land is very fragmented. However, cool-climate viticulture is perfect for wonderful expressions of aromatic whites and elegant reds, with a lightness of “foot”. If the hallmarks of great wine include such notions as terroir, personality and uniqueness, the best wines of Aigialia Slopes are well on their way. Aigialia stretches from east to the center of the Achaia prefecture. In less than half an hour’s drive someone will gaze at the sea from an altitude of 1000m inside a very old vineyard. The altitude plays a significant role creating cooler mesoclimates and Aigialia is one
of Greece’s few major northern-facing regions to cultivate vines.

Wild topography, high altitude, poor mineral-rich soils, proximity to the sea and northern exposition of the vineyards create a unique mesoclimate for Greek standards. All year round, winds diffused through the watery strip made up by the Gulf of Patras and Corinth, acting as a “natural air-conditioning” for the vineyards. This fact cools-down the vineyards and also prevents any disease. It could be said that the vineyard of Aigialia is practically an organic zone. All the above mentioned factors create a singular mesoclimate in Aigialia which is considerably cooler than that of the rest of the region. This is an archetypical example of cool-climate viticulture in Greece.