Cyprus for vineyard lovers

Centenarian vines in the Margelina vineyard Agios Nikolaos, Cyprus

My story is the story of Cyprus, writes Marleen Zambartas Brouwer, author of the last published entry in our travel writing competition. It’s definitely different, but a great, evocative read, which is why we have included it. For information on the competition and all the entries we have published, see this guide. We hope to publish a shortlist next week. Keep visiting.

Well, I can speak for myself. I was named Margelina, and my life started in the year 1921, on British soil. The weather that year was, as usual, cool and rainy in the winter months and warm and dry in the summer. The world was still recovering from a bloody war, which left us in Cyprus unaffected. The Brits who were ruling the island came and went and occasionally you could spot a British officer in the mountains. My caretakers were Cypriot, simple and hardworking people, Turkish or Greek, it didn’t matter at that time. They took good care of me. For years and years, they came with a plough pulled by an ox to take care of my soil and harvested me with the help of their donkeys. They were fruitful and youthful years. The joy it brought when my grapes were harvested in their big straw baskets created happy and precious memories.

Agios Nikolaos, also called ‘Esentepe’ in Turkish (meaning ‘Windy Hill’), was my home and it has been ever since. Facing the majestic peaks of the Troodos mountains and with deep cliffs right next to me, I could say I am quite privileged with my location. The village to which I belong was thriving, although not big, with about 500 inhabitants. It was lively, especially in the summer when everybody took part in the harvest season. Friendships were strong and the mosque and school played a central role for mingling and gossiping.

We went through the turmoil of the second world war without a plane flying over me or a man fallen in the village. The rumours of the Cypriot men fighting at the frontline along with the Brits passed us by, like whispers in the wind.

As my roots grew stronger and deeper every year, the trouble in my village started only after the Brits left us in 1960. Suddenly the village lost its innocence as lifelong friendships were suddenly estranged. Over the next years the very few Greek-speaking men and women of the village slowly started to leave, and in 1974, over the course of one harvest season, the village was left empty.

I remained, and in the following years the demand for grapes grew. I was over 50 years old though, getting old. My gnarled arms were producing a fruit that slowly fell out of fashion, Mavro, with a little bit of Maratheftiko, Kanella, Yiannoudi and Ofthalmo. Some of my long-time neighbours were uprooted to make way for new plantations with exotic-sounding names such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. We were now harvested in plastic crates and big trucks transported our fruit to the wineries in Limassol. A new era had come, and I seemed to be lucky to survive.

Towards the end of the century, our ‘windy hill’ seemed to get a little warmer every year and fewer rains passed over us. The 1990s were just dry, year after year. There were summers when my roots had to work so hard to get water, and I produced so little fruit, that being uprooted seemed inevitable. Although I was nearly abandoned, I survived and entered a new century, still standing proudly on top of that hill.

As I got older and older, I was going to give up on life with my crooked arms and tired roots. There was not much interest in my grapes and modern winemaking seemed to be able to do without me.

Then one day there came some young men who took a real interest in me. They studied my arms, my leaves and soil. They went from plant to plant to see what varieties I had to offer. And then they came again, and after a few months again. For two years they ploughed me, pruned my crooked arms, took some leaves with them and then a few grapes. They did not spray anything on me and allowed the flowers, herbs and bugs to feed on my soil. But when the harvest season came, they left my fruit behind.

In 2017, I started to be in good shape again, got rid of my aching arms and produced juicy and flavoursome grapes. I did not believe I was 96 years old when they finally came with crates and a small truck to harvest my grapes again.

For nearly a century I was a silent witness to all that Cyprus went through. I witnessed the joy, the grief, and the foolishness of mankind. I saw society and the weather conditions change permanently.

As I was about to give up on life, I was saved. And now, the grapes I bear, are turned into wine again…’

Margelina Vineyard, Agios Nikolaos, Cyprus

The revival of the Cypriot wine scene in recent years has transformed it from a bulk wine producing island, to a small but unique wine producing country with vineyards tracing back over a century. A wide range of local varieties is being explored and small, professionally- run wineries are raising the bar of good quality winemaking year after year.  

Indigenous varieties, such as Maratheftiko, Xynisteri and Yiannoudi are producing truly exciting wines and the wine regions are being revived as wineries manage both newly planted vineyards and, in some cases, revive centenarian vineyards.

Away from the crowded beaches, the real Cyprus is waiting for you.