Lift a glass of red or white Cyprus dry ta­ble wine to your lips and you’re try­ing a mod­ern wine with very lit­tle in­her­ited lo­cal tra­di­tion. BUT, if it is a drop of Cyprus Com­man­daria in the glass it is an­other thing al­to­gether. This is his­tory in a bot­tle

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

There has prob­a­bly been a com­mer­cial wine industry in Cyprus longer than any­where else in the world. Whilst this may give rise to ro­man­tic pro­mo­tional gam­bits like “Four thou­sand years of tra­di­tion”, it is no guar­an­tee of good wine to­day.

Thank­fully, though, to­day there is plenty of good wine to drink in Cyprus; but this is due to the skill of mod­ern wine-mak­ers and their equip­ment rather than in­her­ited tra­di­tions.

The wild vine from which our mod­ern grape va­ri­eties de­scended (a very long time ago) un­doubt­edly grew in Cyprus and the bit­ter small fruits were prob­a­bly col­lected and dried by man. The cul­ti­va­tion of vines for dessert fruit and wine is rel­a­tively re­cent.

In fact, it seems that the grape was first brought near man’s home and cul­ti­vated in the Black Sea area around 8,000 years ago. From there it spread slowly south-east­wards to Me­sopotamia, Syria and Egypt, from whence it trav­elled across the Mediter­ranean to Greece, on to Italy, and so on.

There is much ev­i­dence to sug­gest that the coun­try which had the great­est wine industry for the longest pe­riod was Syria, from around 3000 BC or be­fore, un­til about 1000 AD, when Is­lam held sway and banned the pro­duc­tion of al­co­hol.

It is known that in that early pe­riod, 5,000 years ago, Syr­ian farm­ers came to Cyprus and, al­though there is no ev­i­dence to prove it, I am con­vinced they would have brought their wine­pro­duc­ing grapes with them.

And so, when the Greeks and Ro­mans came to Cyprus sev­eral mil­len­nia later, I think they would have found wine al­ready here, but prob­a­bly of a very dif­fer­ent style to the wines they were ac­cus­tomed to.

Be­cause of prob­lems with seal­ing ves­sels to pro­tect the wine from ox­i­di­s­a­tion from the air, most early wines would have been sweet and the tra­di­tion of such wines in Cyprus was born. Sweet wines not only ox­i­dise more slowly, but they travel bet­ter then dry wines. So, call­ers to the Cyprus of old would have stocked their boats with the sweet wines of Cyprus.

Not a lot of his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence ex­ists to de­scribe the wines of Cyprus be­tween the Gre­coRo­man pe­ri­ods and the Mid­dle-ages, when Cyprus en­dured drought, pestilence and reg­u­lar wars, in­va­sions and in­cur­sions.

In the 11th cen­tury, when the Cru­sades com­menced, Cyprus wines be­came recorded and praised. The most noted pro­po­nent, at least in­so­far as leg­end and wine pro­mo­tion have it, was Richard the Lion Heart.

From his so­journ here and those of the var­i­ous Or­ders of Knights, came the generic de­scrip­tion of the sweet wines of Cyprus: “Com­man­daria”

Com­man­daria, by law, to­day has cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of ori­gin, which stip­u­lates types of grapes, re­gions of pro­duc­tion and meth­ods. For such a de­li­cious sweet wine it is a re­mark­able bar­gain.

As the cen­turies passed, writ­ers, pri­ests, ex­plor­ers, sol­diers and rulers praised the sweet wines of Cyprus, bought them, shipped them, drank them. In­va­sion fol­lowed in­va­sion. Four hun­dred years of Lusig­nan rule, end­ing in 1489, was fol­lowed by the Vene­tians (1489-1571), who found the place bank­rupt.

The Ot­tomans in­vaded in 1571 and stayed un­til 1878, when they ceded the is­land to Bri­tain.

In all this pe­riod there was not a lot done for the vine-grower, es­pe­cially un­der the Turks, who ex­tracted in­iq­ui­tous triple taxes from vine-grow­ers and wine-mak­ers.

Apart from taxes, one as­pect of the Turk­ish pe­riod was that they al­lo­cated the bet­ter land to peo­ple of their faith, leav­ing the Cypri­ots of the Ortho­dox Church the higher, less fer­tile ground, whose only use­ful crop­per was the hardy vine.

Dur­ing the Dark Ages, the De­fend­ers of the Faith, the Monas­ter­ies, all over Europe were also “De­fend­ers of the Grape”, pro­tect­ing the her­itage if the vine left by the Ro­man Em­pire, and en­sur­ing that the mak­ing of good wines, spir­its and liqueurs car­ried on. There is no doubt that this tra­di­tion held true in Cyprus. There are records of a win­ery at Chryso­ri­oyi­atissa Monastery in the 18th cen­tury and, no doubt, wines and liqueurs have been made else­where over the cen­turies.

But it is in the 19th cen­tury that the foun­da­tions of the mod­ern industry were laid. The House of Hag­gi­pavlu was founded in 1844, when the com­pany made the pur­chase of a sec­ond sail­ing ves­sel, the “Saint Pe­ter” to add to the first, the “Alexan­der” bought in 1825. Th­ese ves­sels took ex­ports of wine in bar­rels all over the east­ern Mediter­ranean.

By the early 1870s, it seemed that ex­ports could rocket to colos­sal lev­els, when the Phyl­lox­era bee­tle struck and dec­i­mated ev­ery vine-grow­ing area in Europe ex­cept Cyprus. The French, and oth­ers, de­manded thou­sand of bar­rels from Cyprus to meet de­mand for wine and the Cypri­ots thought their bo­nanza days had come.

But the French quickly passed laws re­strict­ing im­ports, to force the lo­cal industry to re­build and Cyprus’ boom time faded away.

In 1875, the Bri­tish leased Cyprus from Turkey and it seemed bet­ter days would come. But there were still taxes, and lit­tle in­vest­ment for this small part of the Great Bri­tish Em­pire. In 1889 the Cypri­ots sent a del­e­ga­tion to Lon­don to lobby for a re­duc­tion in im­port du­ties on Cyprus wines, but with­out suc­cess.

But the lo­cal industry pro­ceeded un­de­terred. In 1893, the Hag­gi­pavlu fam­ily, by then mak­ing spir­its as well as wines, built the first mod­ern win­ery, in Sanaja in the Li­mas­sol

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