The startling black landscape of La Geria, Lanzarote’s wine-growing region, is for many, the quintessential Lanzarote, marking this island out as truly different to the other Canary Islands. Thousands of pits, each containing a single green vine, cover the floor and lower slopes of the valley. Each pit has been dug through up to three metres of volcanic lapilli (small porous volcanic pebbles) to allow the vine’s roots to reach the soil, and is protected from the wind by a crescent-shaped stone wall, known as a Zoco.
The region and its unique grape-growing techniques enjoy a protected status, thanks in no small part to the work of the local artist, César Manrique, who brought La Geria to international attention in 1964 with his photographic exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art, entitled Arquitectura sin arquitectos.
The central part of Lanzarote was devastated by 6 years of Volcanic eruptions in the 1730s, leaving what was formerly some of the most fertile land on the island covered in up to 2 metres of basalt. The slopes of the La Geria valley, although not previously considered fertile, were left covered in a thick blanket of Volcanic Lapilli (known as Picón or Rofe) – a porous black gravel. Initially, the islanders believed the area had been rendered useless by the thick covering of picon, but, over time, they noticed plants begin to colonise the area. They discovered that the picon not only acted as a type of mulch, protecting the scarce rain water from evaporation, but actually allowed the dew (La Geria is often blanketed in mist during the early morning) to condense inside the porous stones and drip down into the soil.
Over time, the islanders began digging hollows out of the loose picon and planting fig trees and vines in the soil that lay beneath. Walls were built to prevent the picon from falling back into the hollow and to protect the plants from the prevailing winds. The dominant grape variety, Malvasia, was introduced from Crete, another southerly island, with vines well-suited to strong sunshine and an arid climate.
It is often claimed that William Shakespeare enjoyed drinking wine from Lanzarote, however this is extremely unlikely, since there was no wine-making tradition on the island until after the eruptions of the 1730s (over a century after the Bard’s death). Interestingly, there are references to wine being exported from Lanzarote in the 1630s, but it turns out that this was a tax dodge to re-export wine from Madeira to the Antilles.
Visiting La Geria
A drive or coach tour through La Geria is a must for any visitor to the island – a coach tour offers the advantage of actually being able to stop off and sample some of the produce at the road-side bodegas. One of those, the El Grifo Bodega, was founded in 1775, and is the oldest winemaker in the Canary Islands and one of the 10 oldest wineries in Spain. Apart from sampling the wine, visitors to El Grifo can see the old presses and other historic wine-making equipment at the attached Wine Museum. If you want to see La Geria at its best, then May, June or July are when the vines are at their most verdant, the harvest is at its height by mid-August, and the vines are already wilted and displaying autumn colours by September. Both the Grand Tour of Lanzarote and Lanzarote South Tour excursions visit La Geria and stop to sample the wine.