(Old British Music Hall Song)
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 email@example.com . Visit my website at www.eastward-ho.com Have a good week!