What comes to mind when you think of Lanzarote?
Sunny beaches, wind-related sports, volcanoes, fresh fish, and… wine?
Apart from being a major Spanish holiday destination Lanzarote has one of the most incredible wine stories to tell. Its wines have been enjoyed across the globe, travelling by boat to some of the most significant destinations.
To fully understand the uniqueness of this now rare wine, one must understand where it comes from and how hard it is for the winemakers and growers to make it a reality.
The landscape in Lanzarote is shaped by two main things, wind, and volcanoes.
The island is low and the few mountains that dot it barely make it higher than 800 metres. This means that the Alisios winds (the constant northern winds coming from the Atlantic) continually sweep the island. This is great for creating energy using wind farms, but it is not ideal for growing any plants. There are no forests in Lanzarote and barely any trees that grow naturally on the island. The few crops we saw on our short 3-day visit were burnt by the wind and the extreme temperatures during this summer. If the Alisios does not blow from the north, Lanzarote experiences Eastern Sahara Desert winds instead and that brings even higher temperatures, dust, and sand, meaning the burning of even more unprotected vegetation.
A large part of the island, about two-thirds, is geologically old and eroded, whilst approximately one-third is relatively new. Between 1730 and 1736 the island suffered a series of volcanic events making it the longest volcanic eruption ever recorded in the Canary Islands. This not only created new land, new mountains, and a new landscape, but its ashes covered most of the island, blanketing the small amount of fertile soil available with ‘lapilli’, or ‘rofe’ as the locals call it. ‘Rofe’ is a black, thin, and sharp volcanic ash. It wasn’t long before the locals realized, even before the eruption ended, that if they dug deep enough to reach fertile soil, plants would flourish once again. As a result, the people of Lanzarote were able to produce their wine, halting imports and even exporting some wine overseas.
Volcanic ash played a crucial role in the magic that consequently happened. The locals planted vines and fruit trees in pits, excavated on the ‘rofe’, and those pits protected the plants from the wind, avoided soil erosion, absorbed most of the heat, and even caught the moisture from the air, trapping the humidity in the soil. There and then wine could be made, and a new industry began to flourish.
Growing vines and making wine in Lanzarote is hard work. The pits have to be worked by hand. This means that every part of the maintenance of the pit – the fertilising, the harvesting, and the pruning, involves one or more people entering the pit, doing the work, and then getting out again. And there is only one vine per pit! Some of the ‘hoyos’, as the locals call them, are deeper than others. This depends on the amount of ‘rofe’ they received from the volcanic eruptions. The more ‘rofe’ there is on top of the soil, the wider the ‘hoyo’.
Some of the vineyards I visited were only about 1 hectare. The one I visited in La Geria has around 430 ‘hoyos’, so only 430 plants per hectare. A ridiculously low number when you compare it with the 3,000 vines per hectare average in Spain. It was at this point that I was in complete awe of the men and women who love this land so much that they would create wine in such an inhospitable environment.
I grew up in the Canary Islands and winegrowing was part of my childhood and adolescence. Even though I was not involved like I am now, I saw vines everywhere in Tenerife and I knew about the existence of the ‘hoyos’ in Lanzarote after holidaying there with my parents. The proximity to the vines on this trip and the knowledge of wine I have now have made this short break an unforgettable one. I even had time to learn something that I found fascinating, a way to exploit the land that took me completely by surprise.
As well as ‘hoyos’, the Conejeros (slang for people from Lanzarote) found an ingenious way to use every imaginable resource to plant their vines. The ‘chabocos’ are volcanic crevasses mainly formed out of collapsed volcanic tubes. In this sheltered location, the Muscatel grape variety is planted, which is used for sweet wines or for eating at home. After visiting two of these “chabocos” I realized two things: the human mind is capable of solving any problem with very little, and vine plants are incredibly robust.
Wine Industry Mallorca
Bringing wines to you – quality wines from lesser known Bodegas and interesting wine makers!
Ivan Gonzalez Gainza (+34) 657 883 248
Lara Corfield (+34) 638 601 943