28 April 2017

La Geria: Lanzarote’s Volcanic Vineyards

When volcanic activity caused the emergence of the Spanish island of Lanzarote 15 million years ago it was a desolate, lifeless place.

Settled only three thousand years ago, the island's volcano could still erupt again.

Although the last major eruptions started in 1730 over a period of six whole years and the volcano has been dormant since 1824, even today agricultural exploitation of the island is a difficult process.

Yet in the La Geria region of the island, farmers have come up with an ingenious way to grow their grapes.

They had to.  The eruptions lasted for an incredible 2053 days.  Over a front of 20 kilometers the island was endlessly pounded and many of the island’s inhabitants decided to emigrate to Cuba and the Americas.  Once the eruptions were over, much of the islands agricultural land had been left seemingly barren with many farming communities destroyed.  Yet out of the ashes – literally – rose a new method of farming.

First pits are dug, around four or five meters in diameter and two or three meters deep.  A single vine is then panted and a small wall is built around the plant to protect it.  This is not soil, however. It is lapilli, tiny pieces of material that fell out of the air during the islands volcanic eruptions. The centuries old technique harvests rainfall and dew, feeding the vines so that they produce a fine crop of grapes with very little soil.

Image Credit Flickr User PepeLuz
Image Credit Flickr User Ramon Duran
Image Credit Flickr User GanMed64
The result is a landscape both familiar and alien. Vineyards are a sight with which most are at least acquainted but this Lanzarote (one of the Canary Islands) vista is truly something to behold.  If there are vineyards on Star Trek’s planet Vulcan, then it is easy to imagine them looking something like this.

Image Crediut Flickr User Alexis Martin
Image Credit Flickr User GanMed64
Image Credit Flickr User Loranger
Once the grapes are ready for harvest the help of one of Lanzarote’s many camels is enlisted.  As the paths around the pits are not wide and crumble very quickly a single person is allotted to harvest each vine pit.  Even then climbing in to the pit must be done as carefully as possible so as not to disturb the lapilli.

Image Credit Flickr User Inaki Querauly
Image Credit Flickr User Penjelly
Image Credit Flickr User F Sancha
Next comes picking the grapes.  A single large bucket and two trips normally do the trick as each vine yields around thirty kilos (close to seventy pounds) of grapes.  It is truly uncomfortable, painstaking work; the heat in the pits can rise to 50˚C.

Image Credit Flickr User penjelly
Image Credit Flickr User LoboEsteparia
Image Credit Flickr User PepeLuz
Once harvested, the process of wine-making can begin.  The grapes are taken from their stems, pressed and then filtered and finally the resulting juice can be fermented.  The process of fermentation can last up to two years but even so the wine is considered ‘young’.

Image Credit Flickr User Corma
Image Credit Flickr User AmoreLuz
Image Credit Flickr User LoboEstepario
Unsurprisingly, the vineyards of La Geria constitute a protected area.  It may be surprising that a wine can be produced in such an arid, volcanic area but it just goes to show what an inventive and resourceful species we can be. Where there is a will, there is always a way.

Image Credit Flickr User SoniaBaptista
Image Credit Flickr Useradrianalonso
First Image Credit Flickr User Gerd.Everman