The honour of grape harvesting in La Geria, the pleasure of drinking volcanic wines
They descend into the hollow, cut the bunches of grapes that they have been watching over with forensic precision for months, place them in boxes and carry them up the same path they used to come down.
We are participating in one of the most exciting and laborious ﬁestas in the world: the harvest of grapes grown in volcanic ash, in the Lanzarote region of La Geria.
We know, they look like meteorite impacts, but they’re not. The hollows of La Geria are a unique viticulture system like no other in the world: holes dug and arranged by hand, generation after generation, ever since Timanfaya covered this valley with its ashes in the 18th century.
Touring these landscapes and tasting the product of their wineries is a good way of understanding the peculiarities of this region, its roots, its mineral humours, its vital juices…
Europe’s earliest harvest
The grapes are the boss. This summer has been warmer and by mid-July, the grapes reveal through their shape and colour that they are ready to be harvested. Lanzarote’s grape harvest is the first of all the wine-growing areas in Europe.
The earliest variety is the listán negro. Then it will be the turn of malvasía volcánica, listán blanca, negra mulata, diego and moscatel de Alejandría. Each has its own point of maturity.
Every month there is work to be done in the hollows: restoring them, removing fallen leaves, pruning (a vital and very delicate task), sulphurising, monitoring the humidity and temperature…
The volcanic ash retains all the moisture (the dew, the coolness of the Atlantic trade winds, the scarce rainfall) and nourishes the roots of the vines, which extend metres and metres into the ground, sheltered from the wind above by socos, semi-circular volcanic stone walls.
The gruelling grape harvest season
There is no time to lose. These days, in La Geria there is a constant coming and going of pick-up trucks loaded with grapes. In many parts of the region, no machinery can enter. The sustainable system of hollows prevents mechanisation. The same is true of the chabocos, beautiful volcanic bubbles where the sweetest variety is grown: the muscatel.
This means more work and generally a smaller but much tastier production, because the inhabitants of these agricultural ecosystems are usually veteran vines, very well adapted to the environment.
You will also see plots with ditch cultivation systems where small tractors can enter. In the past, donkeys and camels were the best allies for this work.
The grape growers take the grapes to the wineries, where they are weighed, a sample is taken for laboratory analysis and the bunches are selected. The presses are loaded, the fruit is crushed, the liquid is transferred to vats…
The hustle and bustle is also seen in the kitchen, because there must be plenty of sandwiches, a hearty ropavieja or a platter of freshly picked figs for the grape pickers and harvesters to replenish their strength at the end of the day.
From the volcano to your glass
Bacchus, Baco, Mundus Vini, Decanter, Wein Trophy… The wines of the Lanzarote Designation of Origin win prizes every year at the most prestigious international wine competitions in the world and obtain outstanding scores in the Parker List.
More than half of the production stays at home in Lanzarote, 40% is exported to the rest of the Canary Islands and almost 10% goes to wine shops and restaurants in Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Japan and the United States.
The land is unique and so are the wines made from the grapes that feed on it. Dry, semi-dry, sweet, semi-sweet, sparkling, with different fermentations and elaborations, the variety of Lanzarote wines is surprising.
The best thing to do is to let yourself be advised in order to achieve a good pairing that will bring an explosion of happiness to the palate: a tapa of foie with a glass of semi-sweet wine, a fresh fish with a volcanic malvasia, a sirloin steak with a glass of red… Happiness.
15 August, to the chapel of La Caridad
Masdache, Montaña Blanca, El Cabezo, Juan Bello, Tinasoria… Some of the wines of Lanzarote are single-vineyard wines and the traditional name of the area where the grapes were harvested is shown on the label, together with the names of the winegrowers who aged them.
To drink wine is to want to get to know the land where it was born. And the chapel of La Caridad, in the heart of La Geria, is an important part of this rich cultural heritage that can be visited every 15th of August, during the ﬁestas of La Geria.
Founded in 1706, it has a single nave and a hipped roof. Its outer wall, topped with diamond-shaped points, serves to protect the people from the wind, just as the socos protect the grapes. The ashes of the El Cuervo volcano buried it completely until it could be uncovered and restored.
A few metres from the chapel, on this same day, 15th August, Bodega La Geria recreates the traditional grape harvest with camels and the treading of the grapes in the wine press, an artisan task that is still used in the production of some of the D.O. wines.
At the end of this little trip, we can’t help thinking that Lanzarote has managed to turn survival into a work of art.