The gift of ancient grapes

The gift of ancient grapes

During his travels through mountain villages of Greece, Dr. Vassalis Logothetis, a professor of oenology, came upon a dilapidated pergola on the southern coastal town of Nafpaktos.  Growing wildly on this ancient arbor was a grape vine called Malagousia.  Until his “discovery” in the 1970s nobody had heard of this indigenous, aromatic white varietal.

The vigorous vine had survived from the days when viticulture was abandoned in the area during the 1940s Greek Civil War. Logothetis brought the vine cuttings to his student winemaker, Vangelis Gerovassiliou, who became the first to experiment with the grape. By the late 1980s Domaine Gerovassiliou released its first wines commercially and today malagousia is considered the quintessence of the modern renaissance of new wines in Greece.

Throughout the centuries, grape varietals like malagousia have been highly prized; then for a variety of reasons, were abandoned and re-discovered again.

But, in the last half of the century, there has been a revival of ancient grapes. Passionate winemakers and conservationists, who believe in the quality and potential of these varieties, are recovering rare and indigenous wine varietals.  By embracing their heritage, the emergence of these grapes are adding character, diversity and excitement to the world of wine.

The near extinction of grapes can be attributed to social, biological and environmental factors.   By the 1900s, Phylloxera, a parasitic louse of American origin took an unimaginable toll on the world’s vineyards, particularly in Europe.  Despite desperate attempts to stop the spread of disease, it is estimated that over two-thirds of the vines were affected and destroyed.

More contemporary reasons include the heightened popularity and versatility of well-marketed grape varieties, such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  These celebrated grapes have dominated the market, severely diminishing diversity, both in the vineyard and in our wine glasses.

READ MORE to discover the gift of ancient grapes. Originally published in LUXURY MAGAZINE in November, 2016

This piece was shortlisted in 2017 for Best Investigative Wine Story

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