(Old Bri­tish Mu­sic Hall Song)

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - Patrick Skin­ner

When we lived in the foothills of the Troo­dos moun­tains, un­like sev­eral of our neigh­bours, per­ma­nent res­i­dents and hol­i­day home own­ers, we didn’t go much to the beach. Some went a few times a month, oth­ers vir­tu­ally ev­ery day, most of the year. Curium Beach was the most pop­u­lar, al­though Avdi­mou and Me­landa had their devo­tees. Tav­er­nas there were, and are, on all of them. In 1991 we first en­coun­tered Chris Blue Beach at Curium, a rick­ety wood, tin and reed cov­ered af­fair where you could get fresh fish, ke­babs and fry-ups. We never knew, and still don’t know, Chris’s sur­name. He was very much the lone hand, then, helped by his wife, with a young fam­ily, but al­ways wel­com­ing.

Chris is still there, at the helm, with his “chil­dren”, Ma­rina, Efthi­mouis and Sav­vas, run­ning things. The build­ing has been ex­panded, knocked down and re­built over the years and is now a long, low, sleek, con­crete steel and glass af­fair, look­ing very much ar­chi­tect­de­signed, with a state-of-the-art spot­less, gleam­ing stain­less steel kitchen. Prob­a­bly 300 people can sit down, in­side and out to eat.

As with so many cater­ing op­er­a­tions that have sur­vived for decades, Chris Blue has had its ups and downs, with qual­ity fall­ing from time to time, and reg­u­lars com­plain­ing about ris­ing prices and “food not be­ing what it was”, but it sur­vives and pros­pers. Nor­mally Chris starts his sea­son at Easter, but he was early this year and the place was in full swing when we went there, three times, dur­ing our visit in March. Our vis­its were with a cou­ple who don’t go very of­ten, a friend from our old vil­lage who is a “reg­u­lar” and a mother-and-daugh­ter who go a num­ber of times a year.

The menu is eclec­tic. There’s fresh fish and seafood, of course, grilled or fried. Cala­mari and oc­to­pus (both prop­erly done). Ex­cel­lent fish and chips. Mous­saka, meaty or veg­e­tar­ian (co­pi­ous and deemed tasty). There are pasta and rice dishes and good sal­ads (the seafood va­ri­ety is rec­om­mended). And lots more. A rea­son­able wine list and sev­eral good cold beers. Prices are just in­side “ac­cept­able” and good value if you take into con­sid­er­a­tion the lo­ca­tion, which is spec­tac­u­lar. Fam­ily run, cer­tainly - Ma­rina leads the serv­ing team of gen­er­ally friendly and help­ful people. But this large café-restau­rant is fully com­put­erised, boast­ing ser­vice sta­tions which record or­ders, trans­mit them to the kitchen and tot up the bill. The kitchen seems pretty ef­fi­cient to me.

A food-re­view web­site has this com­ment from a cus­tomer: “They are a won­der­ful fam­ily and have a bril­liant ap­ti­tude for re­mem­ber­ing who you are, even if they have not seen you for years.” I can tes­tify to this – Chris greeted us like old friends and knew who we were. stylish re­cep­tion, pre­sen­ta­tion and tast­ing ar­eas have been cre­ated above the cus­tom­ary gleam­ing steel of fer­men­ta­tion, mat­u­ra­tion and stor­age tanks and the pumps, pipes and tu­bers of the wine mak­ing plant. You walk above this across a “bridge” en­closed by plate glass – a fu­tur­is­tic sce­nario.

The man, of course, is Sopho­cleous Vlas­sides, now well into his sec­ond decade of mak­ing wine. Start­ing in his home vil­lage of Ki­lani, with some sec­ond hand and some makeshift gear housed in sev­eral small premises, Vlas­sides ap­plied a lot more than the fam­ily in­her­i­tance of wine-mak­ing skills. As a boy he wanted to make proper wine and was for­tu­nate and de­ter­mined enough to get him­self to one of the best places in the world to learn how to do it – Davis Univer­sity Cal­i­for­nia.

Af­ter gain­ing his de­gree in oenol­ogy, Vlas­sides im­mersed him­self in hands-on wine­mak­ing in France, Greece and other coun­tries, be­fore re­turn­ing to Ki­lani to think about grapes, vine­yards and wines. Early on he de­cided that he would plant “for­eign va­ri­eties”; he would dis­card the red Cyprus Mavro but ex­per­i­ment with and de­velop the white Xynis­teri. Later, in com­mon with many other grow­ers, he took to the lowcrop­ping, dif­fi­cult-to-cul­ti­vate indige­nous red Maratheftiko. Al­though mak­ing a sta­ple red and white, he es­chews quan­tity wine­mak­ing.

“In the new win­ery”, Sopho­cleous told me, “I shall not make more than 120,00 bot­tles a year”, enough to sur­vive and pay off his cap­i­tal obli­ga­tions. Among reds he makes “Bou­tique” quan­ti­ties of Cabernet Sauvignon (a grape I have never felt can do well in Cyprus) and Shiraz. He makes whites with for­eign grape va­ri­eties, but is a strong ad­vo­cate of our Xynis­teri: “I think it has the po­ten­tial to be a Pinot Gri­gio. It is very man­age­able. Of our two re­gions, I pre­fer the Li­mas­sol district Xynis­teri. A lit­tle less on the nose than the Paphos, but with longer life”. A purist in many re­spects, Sopho­cleous is not afraid of break­ing the norms; for in­stance in his blend­ing of Shiraz and Xynis­teri to make a rosé. This I en­joyed as a friend­ship­mak­ing sip of a warm sum­mer’s evening or ac­com­pa­ny­ing a Chi­nese meal.

I asked how he keeps up his wine knowl­edge. “I reg­u­larly sam­ple wine from other coun­tries”, he said, “and also wines made by other Cyprus winer­ies. As for my own, I taste them in the mar­ket, be­cause it is im­por­tant to know how they re­act to the move­ment and stor­age. To know what it is the cus­tomer gets”.

Sopho­cleous buys in many of his grapes from con­tracted grow­ers with whom he works closely and has 16 hectares of his own vine­yards. He would like more, but he adds, some­what rue­fully, “As soon as any­one re­alises you are in­ter­ested in buy­ing more land, watch the prices go up”.

Highly re­spected by his peers, Sopho­cleous works with pro­duc­ers such as Tsi­akkas and Ar­gyrides, shar­ing and ex­chang­ing knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. The three also have a jointven­ture wine dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany.

With the pro­viso of cli­mate – he was very con­cerned about much needed rain when I saw him – the Vlas­sides wine fu­ture looks good. He plans to put his win­ery on the wine tourism map and to in­crease sales “from the gate”, by adding some cater­ing fa­cil­i­ties and ameni­ties for vis­i­tors. This splen­did build­ing de­serves vis­i­tors! The near fu­ture will also see more Cypriot grape va­ri­eties com­ing into his pro­duc­tion.

For his ded­i­ca­tion to qual­ity, his fore­sight and en­ter­prise, Sopho­cleous Vlas­sides is truly a Cyprus Wine Hero.

News, views and opin­ions are very wel­come! Send them to me at edi­tor@east­ward-ho.com . Visit my web­site at www.east­ward-ho.com Have a good week!

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