Her eyes squeezed against the bright sunlight. Her hair was covered with a scarf, her face full of deep lines from age and years of work in the fields.
Her hands dirty and rough, holding her pruning scissors. Behind her, her husband was loading their donkey with grapes. Kuria Eleftheria looked at me in a disapproving way and then said: ‘This girl is no good for picking grapes, why did you bring her to the vineyard?’ Marcos later told me she had said that my skin is too pale and my hair too blonde to be in the bright sunlight. Along with that she implicated that I would probably be hopeless at picking grapes as well.
This was my very first day in Cyprus, 6AM in Pachna, on an August morning after arriving on a late flight the night before. One thing was clear; I knew from the start what interesting life I was getting myself into.
Six hours later, when all grapes were picked, she took us to her son’s house and gave me a big plate of ‘Macaroni tou fournou’; because I must have gotten hungry…. I managed to win her heart by 6 hours of harvesting in the August heat without complaining.
That was my first encounter with local vineyard owners, people from the traditional wine villages in the region. They have been growing grapes on their family land since they inherited the land from their parents, who inherited it from their parents. These families have grown grapes on their land for decades and sold them to the local wineries for the production of wine. A lifestyle that formed the beating heart of Cyprus’ wine industry for centuries.
Many more meetings have followed since that hot day in August and each grower has made me learn more about Cyprus’ true identity than anybody else.
All the growers are very hardworking people. They are all proud of their village and vineyards. They all still live and breathe the ‘old’ Cyprus of hospitality, humbleness and strong family ties. The number of times we were invited to come to their home to eat watermelon, figs, homemade olive bread and halloumi, washed down with Keo beer or home brewed zivania, are countless.
They all live with nature and know the vineyards around their village like nobody else. They know every stone, every rock and every tree. They navigate around by landmarks such as, ‘the big olive tree’, ‘the grey rock’ or ‘the three bushes’, which sometimes leads to hilarious situations trying to find a vineyard based on their directions.
They are all stubborn too, with the exception to the rule. Who are we to tell them to prune their vines differently or to stop spraying with pesticides? They know their ways, the ways their father told them and it is difficult for Marcos to convince them differently. Sometimes heated conversations are needed to make them understand that viticulture can be improved and modernization has even reached their vineyards in the Cypriot hills.
Along with the changing society and the tendency for young people to live and work in the city, new generations are not so keen to take over their family’s vineyards. Therefore the lifestyle and Cypriot identity that these growers embody is rapidly being lost; traditions, knowledge and stories along with them.
So here is my small tribute to kyria Eleftheria, kyrios Dinos, kyria Eleni, kyrios Andreas, kyrios Makarounas, kyrios Giorgos, kyrios Aristos, kyrios Bambos and many more; all strong, unique and beautiful characters. The keepers of the land and its stories, carriers of the Cypriot wine tradition and people with a big heart!
A Winemakers Wife