Greece is the southernmost country of the Balkan Peninsula. It is shaped by the way the spine of the Balkans, itself an off-shoot of the Alps, heads South and dives into the Mediterranean Sea. Furthermore, the topography of Greece was formed by the collision of the three major tectonic plates of Europe, Africa and Anatolia. Earthquakes are a part of everyday life in this country, since it stands on top of several major faults. As a direct result of such a violent formation, most of the land is mountainous. There are very few and relatively small plains while flat terrain is generally found close to the coasts, stretching inland just for a few kilometres. The mainland is surrounded by sea, which is dotted by more than 3000 islands, only 2% of which are inhabited. Steep coastlines, hills and mountains can also be found on most islands.
The variegated landscape of Greece is a clear indicator of what can be expected from the diversity of soil types and textures. The range of soils is extremely wide across the country, including volcanic earth, limestone, chalk, red and black clay, marl as well as different kinds of schist. Limestone, the Holy Grail of many viticulturalists, is one of the most prevailing forms. However, even small viticultural areas may lack a dominant soil type. For example, the Naoussa appellation has more than six soil types that are “significantly present” in the area. Very few vineyards have only one dominant soil type.
However, the great fragmentation of vineyards and the meticulous manual work in the vineyard take advantage of this diversity. In many New World countries, the initial viticultural areas were established in certain places mainly out of convenience. There was no shortage of space and actually no point in making the vine (or those who cultivate it) struggle. The social framework in Europe and, in particular, Greece, was entirely different. For millennia populations were pushed to create villages in less blessed spots for a variety of reasons. In days when transporting wine was out of question or when the cost of buying wine from neighbouring regions was an unaffordable luxury, there was only one way someone could find some wine to drink: by planting a vineyard close by. Because the needs were initially small, there was a lot of leeway for experimentation. Finding those isolated spots that could ripen the vines within a larger and cool region was relatively easy, especially given the fact that it was a task undertaken for generations.
A key point in understanding site selection and soils used for viticulture is the relative lack of fertility of most soils found in Greece. The omnipresence of mountain ranges and the rarity of plains limit the quantity of areas with deep, heavy, fertile soils. These exceptional places are always reserved for what is usually referred to as “large cultivations”. Products like wheat, corn or cotton are far more profitable than grapes and growers turn to these places where a high yield can be easily achieved. In this way, a natural selection process pushed the vineyard to the less hospitable spots, on hillsides and unproductive sites. The Greeks say, “If you have a land that can support a cultivation, go ahead and cultivate it. If nothing can be grown on it, then and only then plant vines or olive trees.” Consequently, Greek vineyards hardly ever produce high yields, hence eschewing a major cause for producing diluted wines.