Time-tested methods still used in vineyards of Cyprus

Cyprus wine was known in western Europe in the 19th century. Both the French traveler Olivier, who visited the Aegean islands in 1793-94, and Anne Pegues, who lived on Santorini in 1824-37, compared Vin Santo with the wine of Cyprus to give their readers some idea of the character and quality of the wine from Santorini. Pegues says this of Vin Santo: «I think that with suitable processing and more attention than it is given, it could compete successfully with Cyprus wine. But for that it needs to be properly made and of good quality.» (1) This means he knew how the Cypriots processed their wine to give them high quality and renown in foreign markets. Justly renowned Thanks to Pegues’s account, valuable information about the vines and wines of Santorini has been saved. Another abbot, Giovanni Mariti, corresponding member of the Academy of Agricultural Experts in Florence, arrived in Cyprus in 1760 and worked for seven years at the Tuscan consulate. In 1769 he published his five-volume work, «Travels in Cyprus, Syria and Palestine, with a General History of the Levant» (2), which was translated into French, English and German. His book contains a wealth of information about the wines and vines of Cyprus, drawn from a study he published in 1772, which is little known outside Italy. This study was translated into English and published by Nicolas Books in Athens in 1984. The information is not significantly different from that contained in Mariti’s work, but many important observations have either been omitted or inaccurately translated. This point is made in the nature of a warning to potential readers. Mariti has some interesting things to say about the method of making Malvasia wine in his introduction, where he explains why he published his study. «My objective is not only to satisfy the curiosity of those who are interested in the pleasure proffered by the noble wines of Cyprus – and especially Commandaria, which is justly so renowned in Europe that it is still holds a distinguished place at tables where the finest wines are offered – but also to suggest ways of making and storing our wines in Tuscany and contribute to improving selected vine varieties.» (3) What did the wines of Tuscany have in common with the wines of Cyprus, in particular Commandaria, to make Mariti consider that the experience of Cyprus could prove useful to winemakers in his homeland? In Tuscany they still make a sweet wine which has been called Vin Santo since the 15th century. The name comes from the Greek wine of the same name from Santorini, and the best Vin Santo in Tuscany is still made using only Malvasia grapes. Planting Mariti’s comments on planting vines lead to an interesting observation: «The vines are grown on various hills on Cyprus, but the wine produced is not always of such good quality as that known by the name of Commandaria, which delights the palate and is enjoyed at European tables. The area of Commandaria is in a part of the island the Greeks call ‘mountainous’.» To the east is the city of Limassol and to the west is Paphos; and to the north is Mount Olympus, which the Greeks call Troodos. This area belonged to the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, from which came the name Commandaria, still in use today. «The vines are planted symmetrically in evenly divided rows. Planting is done during the rainy season, around mid-November. The most widespread form of planting there, where the soil isn’t suitable for trenches, is as follows: They put the vine into the earth with the help of a tool they call a skala, which has two handles they hold while using their foot to push the tool into the earth. When the vine has gone in to a depth of about 50 centimeters they pour in a little water and fill in the hole with soil.» (4) Now let’s look at Crete. The French traveler Olivier, who visited Crete about 30 years after Mariti arrived in Cyprus, writes: «When they want to plant a vine, they just put a pointed metal stave into the ground to the depth of about two feet, and put the vine into the hole they have made and prick the ground all around it with the same metal stave.» (5) The Byzantine work «Geoponika» mentions pattalos fyteian, or a stave for planting (6). And if you follow Strabo’s «Geographica» (7) to Sousa and Babylon, you’ll learn that the Macedonians used to push a sharp iron stave into the ground, remove it and plant the vine in the hole made by the stave. Readers who prefer to place their trust in philosophers can hear Socrates in Xenocrates’s «Economikos» (8) asking: «Which of the two will take root better, the vine that is put upright into the earth so that it can see the sky, or the vine that goes in aslant?» In the photograph you can see that vine growers still plant vines using this ancient method, putting vines into holes made by the fiteftiri, which is the modern name for the skala used by the Cypriots in the 18th century. In agriculture, changes take centuries. The same applies to viticulture. 1) «Histoire et phenomenes de Santorin,» Paris 1842, 286-290 2) Giovanni Mariti, «Wines of Cyprus,» Nicolas Books, Athens 1984, 12-13 (First published in Italian in 1772) 3) «Viaggio per l’isola di Cipro,» Lucca 1769 4) Giovanni Mariti, «Voyages dans l’Isle de Chypre,» Paris 1791, 271-273 5) G.A. Olivier, «Voyage dans l’Empire Ottoman,» Paris 1800/1-1907, Vol. 2, 328, 6) Vol. 2.,7) 15.3.11,8) 19.9-11

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