As the grapes are brought in, some seasonal reflections
The gentle turn in the road from Omodos to Episkopi just south of the winery at Ayios Amvrosios is followed by a long slope up towards Kivides. It holds several memories for me. It was the scene of a shooting a few years ago, when a man jumped out of some bushes with a sub-machine gun and slaughtered another man as he drove round the bend. Fortunately, my travel round that bend had been a few minutes prior. Some years before, I recall seeing for the first time the old Bedford trucks (used just once or twice a year) loaded to the brim with grapes struggling up the hill, with grape juice pouring out of the back and running down the road. No wonder Cyprus wines were somewhat oxidised and lacking finesse in those days.
So, in the northern hemisphere, these weeks have been and are the time when the growers know what standards of life their families are going to enjoy for the next 12 months. It is harvest time! The (or ‘Trigos’).
Those bad old days of grapes waiting for collection by the roadside, sometimes for days, before collection by trucks, for transport to the four wineries in Limassol of KEO, SODAP, ETKO and LOEL, have gone. The change was brought about by independent growers and winemakers who set up in the villages to bring in grapes, fresh and press them quickly to make wine of better quality in small and medium quantities. Then, I wrote about wine every week in the
and caused the enmity of several of the leading lights of the Big Four by castigating them in print for the way they treated grapes and for praising the independents.
“They’re nothing”, a wine grandee once told me, “they won’t survive”. Actually, just about all of them did, causing the grandees to change practices.
Of the Big Four, SODAP were the ones who broke the mould, by bringing in Australian winemakers. These young men and women caused minor mayhem in the hills. They went up there at the crack of dawn to see the vines. “We pick next Tuesday”, one village told them one day. “No, they won’t be ready until Friday at least”, a young Aussie said. The Cypriot shrugged his shoulders and said “OK, I sell to ****”. Eventually, a sum a little above the going rate for a kilo was agreed and for the first time a big winery got grapes that were picked when the winemaker said they were ready. The resulting wine was called “Island
Today’s “Health & Safety” people would have shut down wineries in France, Austria, Lebanon and Spain where I sipped luscious wines in times past. I fear the day will come when most of the wine we drink will taste very much the same.
I give the example of Tavel. This is a modest, dusty unremarkable village in the Rhône whose surrounding land grows some well known and some virtually unknown grape varieties, which happen to blend into a unique, cracklingly dry rosé. It is, or was, the finest rosé you could wish for. There were at least seven remarkable producers, all different. Then a big Rhône Valley wine producer bought in, and jettisoned the Tavel methods. The result tasted good, but it was like his Rhône valley, not Tavel.
“Ah, but you’re neglecting many new, original, winemakers”, a friend said when I advanced my view above. “My tasting experience is limited these days”, I answered, “but I guess I am not, because nowadays most winemakers use the same equipment, technology and oenology. They aim for ‘Robert Parker Standards’.”
All this leads to the message I want to send to Cyprus winemakers. It is “Do your own thing. By all means observe standards and guidelines, but
which reflects your your techniques and your personality”. I wish you