I take great delight in introducing my clients to the quality of Lanzarote’s bodegas and vineyards, and I’ve even found that some in the know already know! With more and more experts spreading the love for the revival of the wine industry here, there’s no need to doubt the company you’ll be keeping. William Shakespeare reportedly accepted barrels of Canary Island wine for payment of his works, so I say if it’s good enough for the Bard…
Discovering Lanzarote’s Volcanic Wine Heritage
With its fertile volcanic terrain and proud history of viticulture, Lanzarote can be a delightful surprise for oenophiles. In recent years there’s been a resurgence of interest in the Canaries as a grape-producing region of worth; the Prestige Holidays collection of luxury holiday accommodation is a perfect complement to an authentic but very sophisticated wine tasting experience.
History of Viticulture in Lanzarote
I’ve always been interested in the provenance of my food and wine, so the story of the Canary Islands’ wine industry is one on which I’ve done quite a bit of reading – accompanied by rather a lot of tasting, in the name of research of course!
Lanzarote was a late-comer to wine production in the Canaries, with Tenerife and Gran Canaria already gathering worldwide praise for the unique flavours of their rich vintages during the 1640s. But when a seven-year period of volcanic eruptions in the 1730s left more than a quarter of Lanzarote engulfed by sand and lava, the islanders were forced to find replacement crops for the wheat, barley and corn that had previously thrived.
While the humidity and the lava-covered land’s resistance to holding water provided the ideal conditions for vines to thrive, the harsh Atlantic winds did not. The locals countered this by burying the individual vines up to four feet down in the volcanic soil, packed in by a low wall of bricks – a tradition that continues to this day.
La Geria Valley
If you, too, are interested in the provenance of the island’s most famous exports, without a doubt the most important place to visit is La Geria Valley, which is the primary site of the island’s wine production. On the road between San Bartolomé and Playa Blanca more than 20 square miles of predominantly Malvasía grapes sprawl over both sides of the road and creep up the slopes of the volcano.
More than 10,000 vines are buried in the holes dug into the rough volcanic ash and soil (known locally as pićon, if you want to impress), each one surrounded by its little fort of bricks. The holes are topped up with coarse granules of pićon to retain the moisture, and the resulting Malvasía grapes are used to produce the range of excellent whites, reds and rosés for which the island is renowned. La Geria is an incredible sight and I always feel like I’ve either taken a step back in time or been transported to another planet – maybe both. Or perhaps it’s the wine…
If you’re looking to spend a fair bit of time around La Geria I recommend staying in one of Prestige Holidays’ properties in the delightful town of Yaiza, in the foothills of the Timanfaya National Park. It’s a really pretty place and its whitewashed fincas and farmhouses offer a startling contrast to the volcanic landscape. Casa de Hilario and La Casona de Yaiza are both charming rural oases, with stunning far-reaching views of the saltpans and lava flows, and both are just a short drive from the beach (car included in your stay).
Tours and Tastings
One can wax lyrical about the history and production of wines but the proof really is in the tasting. Of course, as I say to all my clients, you’ll have to be your own judge when it comes to that – I can only tell you where to go…
While there are plenty of vineyards from which to choose, I heartily recommend El Grifo. Its history and the passion of its fifth-generation owners speak volumes, because not only is it the island’s oldest vineyard (est. 1775) it’s also the most progressive. While the romantic in me weeps a little, they are one of the first to begin moving away from the traditional cultivation methods to experiment with new techniques promising greater yield.
There’s a museum on site – housed very appropriately in the old cellar – where you can take a tour around the nineteenth-century production equipment of stills, pumps, crushers and pressers. If you’re interested in learning more about the production side of things this is a really insightful little side trip.
I often get asked for my “top three” or “top five” recommendations, but I think the best way to make your own choice is to go on a day-long Bodega Hopping excursion. This guided tour is an easy, relaxed and very delicious way of experiencing a great selection of wines from some of the island’s top wineries. But it’s not just about guzzling wine and eating an amazing traditional Canarian lunch – although there is that, yes. Highly experienced guides with a comprehensive knowledge of the local culture and geology accompany the tours, and they’ll feed not just your palate but also your mind.
César Manrique – A Man on a Mission
If you didn’t know the name César Manrique before you came to Lanzarote, there’s no way you’re going home uneducated. This renowned artist had a profound effect on the landscape and culture of his beloved island, and his visionary signature is on display everywhere you turn. Some (but definitely not all) of the unexpected places you can see the work of Manrique are:
- El Grifo: the evocative griffin bird sculpture outside the museum
- El Diablo restaurant in the Timanfaya National Park: enjoy a bite to eat and a glass of wine in the Manrique-designed dining pit made from lava bricks
- Los Jameos del Agua: Manrique created an underground bar, restaurant and auditorium out of lava bricks, bubbles and tunnels in this subterranean volcanic tube.