A gross but most frequent oversimplification is stating that Greece enjoys a Mediterranean climate. Of course, there are several regions where this holds true, mainly along the coastlines. However, this pattern is radically changed in areas in the northern parts or further inland. Several regions in Macedonia, Epirus, Thrace, Central Greece and even in the heart of the Peloponnese display a significant degree of continentality rather than a classic Mediterranean climate. Winters can be much fiercer, with significant snowfall even at low altitudes; springs can be wet and cool; summer temperatures can be mild – even cool during evenings; while autumns can be, again, cold and wet. Finally, early autumn storms are frequent in a number of appellations, primarily in western Greece, which is in general the wetter part of the country. Achieving optimum fruit ripeness before the storms arrive is a key factor for the vine growers and requires sensitive fine tuning, year in, year out.
Greece is a moderately small country, especially in terms of vine growing, with acreage of about 113,000 hectares of vineyards. The surface under vine has been remarkably stable over the last decade although a slight increase is projected for the future. The number of growers is close to 180,000, which is about a fifth of all landowners involved in agriculture. Therefore, the average landholding size in terms of vineyards is slightly above half a hectare, indicating that viticulture is a hugely fragmented sector. There are more than 500 wineries producing and bottling wine, but the number is rising by the week.
The average annual wine production from 2002 to 2006 was 3.8 million hl, dominated by white wines, since reds are about a third of the overall production. Greek grape varieties are, as expected, the majority of the wine produced, or about 90% of the total. The four most important grape varieties in terms of quantity are Savatiano, Roditis, the Muscat family of varieties (Blanc, Alexandria and Hamburg) and Agiorgitiko.
The major viticultural centres are found in Crete, the Peloponnese, Macedonia and the area of Central Greece that is close to Athens, namely the prefectures of Attica and Viotia (Boetia). In terms of appellations, the largest red wine appellation is Nemea, and for dry whites is Patras; Samos leads the way for sweet whites, and Patras, this time with the Mavrodaphne variety, also dominates sweet reds. Nevertheless, very few areas in Greece are completely vine-free and these usually are the extremely rugged parts of the country.
There are 28 regions that have attained the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which were previously known as OPAP (the Greek equivalent of VQPRD) or OPE (the Greek equivalent of AOC). The most important appellations are considered to be Santorini (produced from Assyrtiko grapes), Nemea (from Agiorgitiko), Mantinia (from Moschofilero), Naoussa and Amynteo (both from Xinomavro). There are also 96 Protected Geographical Indications (PGIs), the new class engulfing all Regional wines, as well as two styles under the Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) category.
In terms of wine production, Greece is divided into five zones: Northern Greece (including Thrace, Macedonia and Epirus), Central Greece & Attica, the Peloponnese & the Ionian Islands, Crete and, finally, the Aegean Islands.