Soil & Microclimate

The special character of the Santorini soils, which controls the uniqueness of the variety and taste of its agricultural products, is not only due to their volcanic origin.

It is well known that volcanic soils are among the most fertile in our planet. This fertility is mainly due to the abundance of important principal elements like potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron, as well as a large number of rare elements.

However, the individuality of Santorini soils is due to the fact that there is no soil, at least in the classical sense that this term is used. The very young age of the Minoan eruption, which covered the whole island 3600 years ago, as well as the dry climate, has not allowed the development of soil rich in organics, like the typical humus.

As a result, each variety that survives, grows and is produced in Santorini needs to self-adjust, adapt and specialize to the local conditions. The plant root system needs to learn to dissolve the fresh volcanic glass, and absorb the rich nutritious ingredients that it contains, using the humidity that the pumice stores within its pores. The plant leave system must learn to absorb the humidity it requires directly from the atmosphere, rather than wait for the root system to supply it. Leaves, shoots and fruits need to have a resistant cover, not only to keep the precious moisture but also to stand the constant sandblasting generated by even mild winds which move the light grains of pumice. Every plant variety that survives in Santorini has evolved into a unique species, providing similarly unique flavors.

Another important element that contributes to the large variability of flavors in such a small area, is the variability of the soil composition, a typical volcanic phenomenon, where in a distance of a few meters drastic changes of the soil composition can be observed: From the white (“asproi”) to the black (“mavroi”) soils, as Santorinians describe them, from the white ryolithic pumice rich in potassium and sodium, to the black basaltic scoriae, rich in magnesium and iron. At one place the aromatic well-cooked fava or the tasty little tomatoes grow, at another place the best “athiri” and “mantilaria” can be found.

Professor Christos Doumas usually points out that civilization is born from the response of each society to its environmental challenges. We can expand this understanding to these plant “societies”, interpreting and understanding the uniqueness and variability of the Santorini product flavors as their response to this unique, ever-changing and special natural environment.

Dr. George Vougioukalakis, Volcanologist