The world of wine is as diverse as people themselves and Cyprus is no exception. Steeped in history, upon which it perhaps dwells too much, the Cyprus industry has long been a provider of large quantities of vinified and distilled products to countries as far apart as Japan and Sweden. As fashions have changed, so Cyprus has adapted its industry. In many ways the island is unusual.
The cursed Philloxera beetle, which, after arriving on vine samples shipped from the USA, decimated European vineyards in the 1860's and 1870's, has never reached here -- the only place in Europe it hasn't. This means that the indigenous vines grow undisturbed on their own rootstocks, often for a hundred or even a hundred and fifty years. The majority of vine varieties are old, too. The black unique-to-Cyprus "Mavro", makes up the bulk of most red wines, whilst the more pungent, higher acidity varieties like Maratheftiko and Ofthalmo have been re-discovered and encouraged, helping to make improving and interesting reds. The Xynisteri is the main wine grape, which makes a fresh, light-tasting and pleasing white wine and the majority of whites are made mainly from it.
"Foreign" varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Carignan Noir, Mataro, Chardonnay, even Semillon, have been successfully introduced in the past 20 years and are used for blending with Mavro or Xynisteri, as well as producing small quantities of "varietal" wines. Some of these clearly show their provenance, but in the main if you drink Cyprus wine, you have the taste of Cyprus in your glass.
Get to know it and it will reward you. Unfortunately, Cyprus has been the victim of criticism by international wine writers. Yes, as with all countries, you can find wine here that is not very good. On the other hand, there is plenty that is and it is these wines we hope to help you find (if you haven't found them already!).
But first, a quick look at some positive developments. Cyprus has long had the problem of having wine-making plants a long way from the vineyards, meaning that all too often grapes have not arrived at the winery in the best condition. Apart from taking positive measures to speed up this process, the big companies KEO, ETKO, SODAP and LOEL) are making much of their premium quality wines near the grapes. ETKO have built a plant in the wine hills at Omodhos, with a million-bottle a year capacity, and KEO have bought the Laona winery at Arsos, with similar capability, and have spent millions of pounds on redeveloping and re-equipping wineries at Pera Pedi and Mallia, where they have also cleared and re-planted hundreds of hectares of vineyards.
Recent years have seen government encouragement of small companies to start regional wineries, bringing employment and income to the villages. There are around twenty of these, with capacities ranging from 10,000 to 100,000+ bottles a year. Several expect to be producing quarter to half a million bottles in a few years. These developments are producing more diversified and characterful wines.
Of great help to vine growers and wine makers alike is the recently renamed Vines and Wines Institute of Limassol, founded in 1971 and run by highly qualified personnel, who among many advisory and practical activities make small quantities of wines from virtually every area and every grape variety grown in Cyprus. These show which varieties can make good everyday wines, as well as potentially great ones. According to some authorities, like Hugh Johnson, the great wine of Cyprus is the very sweet dessert wine "Commandaria", which is well worth exploring. But for me, and many others, "wine" means the lovely gold or ruby liquid that we drink before or during a meal. Today, there are plenty of good and very good wines to choose from. As yet there are no great ones; Cyprus still awaits it first internationally great wine maker, but from what I have seen and tasted, I believe that he or she will arrive on the scene in the not too distant future.
Ambeli: The Vineyard
Cyprus is the ideal place for the growth of the vineyard, due to its warm, dry climate. The cultivation of the "ambeli" on the island began from the prehistoric period, just as it had been done in other Mediterranean countries of similar climatic conditions.
Initially, the vine was a self-reproducing plant, whilst in later periods, its systematic cultivation began. This conclusion can be drawn from the study done on fossilised grape seeds that were found in excavations.
The cultivation of vineyards took place on the whole of the island and mainly in the two mountainous areas of Troodos and Pentadactilos. Most philosophical sources mention more so the wine of Cyprus, rather than the vine.
Cyprus, in proportion to its size and population, holds the highest production rate of grapes in the world. Additionally, vineyards cover the largest percentage of semi mountainous and mountainous land of Cyprus, where it is not financially viable to cultivate anything else. The vine may thrive from sea level up to a altitude of 1,500 metres above the sea level.
The vine is a long-living, deciduos plant, which climbs, and due to this, supported at times in its life, helping it grow. The leaves are heart shaped, and in periods of bloom, the buds are small and green. The fruit - the grapes, are sweet with 2 to 4 seeds, and colours ranging from deep red to yellow-green, depending on the type. Depending on the variety, the size of the grapes also changes. There are many criteria in which the variation of grapes may be divided, but the basic distinction is made according to use - whether they are used for production of wine or not.
The vine is of the few plants in which its cultivation goes back to ancient times, and extends from China to Asia Minor. One of the most ancient countries of the vineyard is Egypt, were different seeds were found in many of the oldest tombs, one of which being Omari from 4,500 AD. Additionally, the vineyard is depicted in many coloured wall paintings on the inside of tombs in "Memphida" and in "Thibes". The vineyard is also mentioned in articles by the Hebrews in the Old Testament.
The vine is related to various myths of different civilisations, such as of the Persians, the Indians, the Armenians, etc. Each culture has helped in the advancements in cultivation of the vine, as well as in the production of wine (which was equated to processing a godly gift). The Greeks had Dionysos, The Indians had God Soma, the Egyptians had Osiris, the Romans Baucus, and the Jews had Noah.
During the first Christian years, the cultivation of vineyards in Cyprus proved to be important. This confirmed by the fact that even traditional culture talks of it. According to this, when St Lazarus, after his resurrection and his persecution by the Jews for his miracles, arrived in Cyprus he came to shore somewhere in Larnaca. Tired and hungry, he asked an old lady, an owner of a vineyard, for some grapes. The old lady denied his request, informing Lazarus that all her vines had dried up. The saint was angry with the old lady's lies and ordered that from now on all her vines would wither and die, and a salt lake would appear in their place. The miracle, according to the legend, occurred, and the Salt Lake was formed.
In the House of Dionysos in Kato Paphos, there exist famous multi-coloured mosaics that depict scenes of cultivation of the vineyards. In writings by St Neophytos, who lived around the end of the 12th century, we are given worthwhile information about the vineyards of Cyprus.
Many foreign explorers mention the vineyards of Cyprus and talk especially of its exquisite wine. In 1844, the French ambassador to Cyprus, M Fourcade, sent reports to the French government stating that the vineyards covered 21.3% of the island. Two thirds of these were in the district of Limassol, while the remaining one third was in the districts of Paphos, Larnaca, Kyrenia and Famagusta.
Later, during the Turkish rule of 1868 - 1872, taxes were placed on the production of wine and other alcoholic drinks in Cyprus, and the vineyard cultivation received serious wounds. The hassle and exploitation the farmers experienced forced these people into a situation where the sight of the tax-man alone was enough for them to pour the wine on the ground. This was because the expense was much higher than the gains felt, taking into consideration all the effort of their labours.
In the following decades, the vineyard cultivation started to expand with a faster growth rate in other parts of the island, as well. This was contributed to mainly by the increasing demand for grapes from five new wine producing companies, which were founded in 1910 in the district of Pera Pedi, Mallia, and as well as in Limassol. The need for the formation of these companies lay in the sharp increase in demand for Cypriot wines abroad. During the last decades of the 19th century, the vineyards of Europe were destroyed by a virus of dry-leaf, whilst the Cypriot vineyards had not been harmed. The high prices that were offered for Cypriot wines also contributed to the expansion of cultivation of the ambelia. The new vineyards were planted with a local, dark type of grape, as this variety was more marketable.
During the period of the two World Wars, a further growth in the vineyard cultivation was noted, as the wine could be bottled and sold at a later time. After the end of the Second World War, however, the European wine producing countries regained their overseas markets once again, at about the same time that the new vineyards in Cyprus had started bearing fruit. This had, as an effect, the identification of various problems arising with the increase of the vineyard production. The problems escalated in 1949, which led to the foundation of Programme for the Vineyard products, with the aim of more effectively dealing with the problems.
With the passing of time, and with thanks to the development and expansion of existing, as well as new members of the wine producing industry, the exploration of new markets, and the increase tourism, the wine producing industry will always remain as one of the most important sectors of the Cypriot economy.
The Ambeli is for Cyprus, one of the most significant, large scale cultivations of the island just as it has been over many centuries. The fruit of the ambeli - the grape, as well as its derivatives, has been and will continue to be a vital source of income for thousands of families in Cypriot villages. The principal produce of the grape in Cyprus include different types and quality of wine; "zivania" - a very strong alcoholic aperitif; raisins; "shoushoukko"; "kkiofterkia"; "palouze"; and port.
From 1969, legislation was passed offering government subsidy on vineyard cultivations, with the objective to aid farmers and improve output. By 1971, a plan was laid down with the purpose of replacing older and non productive vineyards with new ones.
Today in Cyprus many different vineyards are cultivated, the wine producing kind as well as not, both local variations and new European families that have been imported over the last few years. Few of these variations are the dark, local type, "Palomino", "Malaga", "Soultanina", "Rozaki", "Veriko", etc.
Cyprus today has a good range to choose from at prices that still represent very good value. Competition between the big boys and the smaller local producers, as well as from an ever growing range of imported wines from all over the world ensures this.
On the main Nicosia-Troodos road, 56 km from Nicosia and 56 km from Limassol (via Kato Amiantos and Saittas), the picturesque mountain villages of Galata and Kakopetria, situated in the Solea valley (or otherwise the apple valley), are popular hill resorts with a good range of hotels and restaurants, but also retaining much of the old folk architecture. Both villages are famous for their Byzantine churches. Other important villages, in the area are Evrikhou, Flassou and Korakou.
The area known as the ' Krassohoria' (the Wine Villages) is found on the south side of the Troodos range.
Old traditions are kept alive in these villages, where the cultivation of the vineyards, and wine making are still the main occupation of most of the inhabitants.
This is the area which produces the famous local red dry wine. Main villages in the area are Omodhos, Arsos, and Pachna. The area is reached from the Limassol Paphos road, turning right after Erimi village or from Limassol-Platres road.
11 km south west of Platres.
A wine producing village, once the property of Sir John de Brie, Prince of Galilee, with the Monastery of Stayros (Holy Cross), standing in the centre of the village. The monastery contains old icons, excellent wood carving and other ecclesiastical objects of interest, as well as a small National struggle museum.
An old House, with a wine-press known as Linos, is being restored and can also be visited. A wine festival is held in the village every August, and there is a large religious fair on 14 September.
4 km west of Platres.
Famous for its pottery and as the birthplace of Archbishop Sophronios II. Visitors can see the Pilavakion private pottery collection.
1.5 km south-west of Perapedhi, off the Limassol-Troodos road. An attractive wine-producing village with the single aisled vaulted church of Ayia Mavri, typical of 12th century architecture with murals of the late 15th century.
The Sterna Winery is situated between wine plantations at the road from Kathikas to Akordalia and wine has been produced here for over 3000 years.
The wine is slowly matured in the cool underground caves, aged more than 2000 years.
The winery is open to the public daily from 9:30 to 18:00. Wine tasting is free.
Kilani Vine Museum, Limassol
Here the sun is hot, the sky clear, the soil fertile. The people are friendly and hardworking. The olive tree, the carob tree, the lemon tree and the vine grow on our land. Our vines are blooming and our wines superb. A large mountainous area of the Limassol district is covered with vines. It is the well known area of 'Krassochoria" or wine-producing villages. Kilani is a picturesque village in this area.
Here, in this traditional wine producing village, where old customs, way of life, traditional occupations and tools are still preserved, everyone is welcome. In the past every household was a small winery. In every one of these households you would find all the exhibits and tools you see in this Museum.
In past decades Kilani, the biggest and most important village in this mountainous area, was an administrative and commercial centre for a number of villages in the area with a Land Registry Office, a Magesterial Court, a Government General Practitioner and a central Police Station. You could also find here a number of shops, flour-mills, small craft industries which attracted people from the surrounding villages to do their shopping.
Kilani is the birthplace of a number of distinguished Cypriots. Among them were Archimandrite Kyprianos and Paissios who lived in the 18th century. Proof of their love for the village is preserved until today in the church of Monogenis.
Like most village communities the population of the village has been rapidly declining in the last four decades. The old architecture of the houses is still preserved as very few new houses are nowadays built in the village. It is a densely packed village with houses built in adjoining squares. The irregular, steep, narrow roads take you to the most remote ends of the village. High surrounding walls enclose each household, making it difficult for a passerby to have a look at what is inside. Rectangular and arched solid outside doors are the evidence that family life was of very great importance and securely guarded and protected.
This Museum is in fact a traditional household in the village. It is built of mud and stone thick walls; it has a thatched roof of tree logs covered with branches of bushes and mud. It is east-facing and the outside courtyard is covered with white stone slates. The rooms built in a line next to each other get light through the door and more rarely through windows placed on the one side.
It must be pointed out that these three rooms belonged to three different owners and constituted three different households. In each one of these rooms the whole family slept, there were big earthenware jars in which they kept their products and it was not at all unusual to have their animals in the same room. A reminder of hard times and poverty