The huge eruptions of the 1730s, which blanketed the third of the island with thick layers of fine black gravel called locally picón was at first seen as an absolute disaster for the island. Much rich farm land was buried, and many islanders thought they faced starvation.
However, it was soon discovered that picón absorbed condensation and rain like a sponge, releasing moisture slowly and helping keep the roots of plants cool. Vines, it was quickly found, thrived in this climate.
With more than 2,500 hours of strong sunlight per year, plus mineral rich layers of soil below the picón, the grapes produced were of excellent quality and flavour. This ability to transform a potential natural disaster into a triumph is typical of the determination of the islanders of Lanzarote and today the Malvasia wines grown here regularly win international prizes and are amongst the best in the world. The wines have a characteristic light fruity flavour and are very crisp and dry on the tongue, making a perfect complement to the many fish dishes of Lanzarote’s traditional cuisine.
The major wine producing area on the island is in La Geria above Puerto del Carmen in the municipalities of Tias and San Bartolomé. Here the entire landscape of more than 3,000 hectares is covered in vineyards, with each vine protected against the strong trade winds by crescent shaped walls made of volcanic rock.
Today a wine route leads through La Geria and many wineries or bodegas can be visited by tourists to taste wines and to talk with the producers. The best place to start perhaps is in the Museo del Vino at the old family bodega of El Grifo (the griffin) with its distinctive Manrique designed trademark.
This is the oldest winery on the Canary islands, with graceful barns and cellars made of black volcanic stone standing around a large cool shady courtyard.
Here, a selection of farming and vine making implements, from vast barrels and presses to 19th century sampling apparatus are set out in the old warehouses of the winery. A series of sepia photographs shows the traditional ways the grapes would be harvested in the 19th and early 20th century, when processions of camels brought the grape harvest into the bodega to be crushed by the stamping bare feet of labourers. The vineyard now has 40 hectares under grapes and produces award winning Malvasia wines which can be sampled in the panelled bar close to the entrance.
Heading south east down the valley on the road to Yaiza, there are bodegas every kilometre or so. La Geria, a protected area, is the most prestigious wine growing area on the island and produces between 5 and 6 million kilos of grapes per year.
Every bodega will have tasting rooms for visitors to sample and buy their wines. Close to Uga and set back into the hillside so that it is barely visible, the Bodega Stratvs, completed in 2008, is one of the most modern wineries in Spain.
Here, at an estimated cost of 20 million euros, a large series of wine cellars have been constructed, with state of the art computer controlled vats and stainless steel barrels stretching back deep into the hillside. Though now in only its third year of production Stratvs has already won important international prizes, both for the product and the design of the winery. The Bodega also has an excellent restaurant, which is inside of an “Aljibe”. An Aljibe is a well, made in a way traditional to the Canary Islands and stores precious rainwater.
Wine is grown throughout the island and visitors should always try the vino pata – the local red, white and rosé wines made by smaller producers which can be bought in village shops and country supermarkets. These wines are often surprisingly good, and are very reasonably priced.
Francisco Perdomo, wine maker
"I agree with wine experts who say that the dry white Malvasia wines – are the best that can be found in the world – it is a treasure of Lanzarote"
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