The Canary Islands have a long and important history of viticulture (grapevine cultivation for wine making). However, Lanzarote was the last of the Canary Islands to start cultivating grapevines. The reason is simple: the conditions in Lanzarote, the ‘Fire Island’ (la isla del fuego), were never right.
Before we begin, here is some background info about Lanzarote in case you are unfamiliar with the island. It is one of the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago of eight islands in the middle of the Atlantic, just off the coast of West Africa. Lanzarote is a magical island and one of our favourite destinations.
Now we know where Lanzarote is, it is easy to see why growing grapevines on the island is not so easy, given that rainfall on the island is just 150 litres a year.
So what has changed then?
How is wine cultivated on Lanzarote now?
The answer lies in the most recent volcano eruptions (1730-1736), which created the perfect conditions to cultivate grapevines and make unique wines.
Because of those eruptions, part of Lanzarote was covered in volcanic ash (or as the islanders call it, rofe). When the locals later dug through it to reach fertile soil, they found that the ash retained humidity. And it was that discovery that jump-started wine cultivation in Lanzarote.
Volcanic ash regulates temperature, which prevents the small amount of rainfall the island gets from evaporating quickly.
The unique vine-growing method of Lanzarote
When we talk about Lanzarote wine, we talk about different wines with unique characteristics. From the moment wine cultivation started on the island, everything changed…
The landscape of La Geria vineyards is like nothing you will find anywhere else on the islands, or in the world for that matter. This is because the vine-growing method used in Lanzarote cannot be found in any other corner of the globe.
Circular volcanic rock walls are built to protect the vines from the trade winds that sweep across the island all year round. It is an astonishing and indescribably beautiful landscape.
The vineyards are on volcanic soil. A layer of charcoal covers the area where the vines are planted, which filters rainwater and prevents evaporation and, as a result, regulates the temperature of the soil. The topsoil in the vineyards is covered by 30-40cm of volcanic ash that has two functions: it prevents the growth of other plants and also helps to retain the few drops of rain the volcanic island gets during the year.
Lanzarote wine-cultivators have perfected their method over time. Currently, they make red, white, rosé, and even sparkling wines. However, the best-known local wine is Malvasía Volcánica white wine. 60% of wines with the Lanzarote Designation of Origin are of this variety.
Because of the specific requirements for wine cultivation in such a difficult terrain, Lanzarote wines have very special characteristics that are unique to them. Malvasía wine, for example, has good acidity, body, and some briny notes from the trade winds that blow across the island laden with sea water.
Lanzarote wines, a rare delicacy
Since harvest seasons are highly variable due to weather, Lanzarote wines have not taken the world by storm (yet). Only 5% of the wines with the Lanzarote Designation of Origin are sold outside the islands. The rest are bought and enjoyed on the Canary Islands.
Lanzarote is a magical island that has an extraordinary feel to it. Perhaps magic, and not just wine, comes from volcanos. Everyone should visit this unparalleled island at least once – and when you do, you always want to return. And the same goes for the wine. Once you taste them… you have to come back and try some more.