On the arid, volcanic island of Lanzarote, generations of winemakers have found a way for their grapes to flourish.
To the side of an empty road on the island of Lanzarote, the northeasternmost of Spain’s Canary Islands, a landscape of dark volcanic mountains and craters rolls out into the distance. The black rock is so arid, and the vientos alisios (trade winds) so fierce, it seems impossible that anything could grow here—we might as well be on the surface of the moon.
But thanks to the ingenuity of some of Lanzarote’s 18th-century inhabitants, things do grow here, in deep divots called hoyos, dug by hand into the volcanic ash. At any of the island’s vineyards—of which there are hundreds—grape vines grow in solitary plots tended by family growers who have shared the same peculiar techniques for generations.
“Here in Lanzarote,” says Ignacio Valdera, co-founder and oenologist at Los Bermejos, one of the island’s better-known producers, “you must forget everything you have learned about growing grapes. You cannot apply any of it.” Walking amid the grid of funnel-shaped hollows, which can be more than 30 feet wide and 15 feet deep in some places, the landscape looks more akin to a land art installation than a world-class vineyard.
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