A winemaker’s wife – A little cosmopolitan oasis in the hills of Cyprus

Sometimes people ask me: ‘Is it not boring to live in a small village in Cyprus as a young and dynamic  person? Doesn’t your world become so small?’

I am very happy that I can give them a fully convinced “NO” for an answer.

The truth is, at first I did not expect to find a lot of excitement in a rural life and being away from the city. I was afraid to miss out on the excitement and thrill that the city brings.

However, I soon realised that the winery has one magic attribute; it is a magnet for people from all over the world. And not just people, people with an interest in wine, food, culture and usually with a very open mind. They come to visit us to taste our wines at first, but after a few glasses of wine people tend to open up, and numerous times we ended up discussing culture, experiences, and life in general.

We’ve had visits from all corners of the world, from the Malaysian family here on holidays, to the American business man working in the Middle East. From the Mallorcan winemaker  to the Italian couple running a B&B in Tuscany. From the young  Russian friends to the Swedish travelagent. From the Brazilian winelover to the English Lord.

One day an Iranian family arrived by taxi from their hotel. A young couple with two gorgeous children, enjoying a small holiday in Cyprus. I soon found out that they came for something more than just a tasting. They turned out to be from the Shiraz region in Iran and secretly producing their own wine in the basement. However they had a problem with the colour of their wine and came to ask for professional advice. The surprising thing was that the wife was the one speaking English fluently and in charge of the wine production. My secretly feminist heart made a little jump and we tried to help her as much as we could.

Or the day that we hosted a crew of 12 Norwegian sailors, stationed in the Eastern Med escorting away Chemical Weapons from Syria. Not only did we have a good time (they were thrilled to be off the boat and drink wine), we also learned about their work and the mission. A few months later, once the mission finished we received a picture from one of the sailors; a bottle of our Rose in the snow somewhere in the north of Norway.

I could go one and describe you the fantastic encounters we had; with the young American girl that determinately told me that when she grows up she will become the president of the United States, or the kind composer that send us 2 CD’s of his music for Cirque du Soleil by post. They actually all deserve a blog of their own.

Marcos had told me when we just met:  ‘The wine world is a exciting world, you will meet a lot of fun, interesting, eccentric and big-hearted people’. This turned out to be so true. I am grateful for meeting each one of them, as they all taught me something valuable about life, from the smallest thing to some big ideas.

I thank them all for bringing ‘the world’ to us in little Agios Amvrosios.


A winemaker’s wife

A Winemakers Wife – zambARTas, when ART is in the name

Yes it is the ‘art of winemaking’, that makes a good wine, we all know that. But that is not the type of art that I want to share with you in this story. I would like to write about ‘art’ as we know it; fine arts, paintings, drawings, expressions of creativity and philosophy. Does being surrounded by those during wine production help make a better wine? Nobody knows, but it certainly creates an inspirational environment to work in.

Many of you who have visited our winery over the years have been impressed and intrigued by the big collection of art hanging on the walls. They were collected by my late father-in -law Akis, who had a big passion for arts. Maybe not many of you knew this side of his personality, as he was not very outspoken about it, but he was a secret admirer and collector of fine arts.

The beauty of the collection that he gathered is that the paintings are not a random collection of pieces purchased at auctions or galleries. Most of them come from friendships with the artists, the majority of them Cypriot and considered some of the greatest of their artistic generation.

Three of them deserve special mention, as they not only catch the eye once entering the winery; they also say something about Akis’ life and friendships.

Akis met Christos Christou during his years in France while studying chemistry. Being students during the roaring late 60’s/early 70’s in which arts, literature and life styles were radically changing, they developed a friendship. Christou studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des BeauxArts de Paris and after graduation became a professional artist. His work is characterized by a dream-like surrealism that recalls early renaissance frescoes with sculptural forms. We are proud to have 6 pieces of this very talented artist here at the winery.

Akis (L) & Christos (R) as students in France

Stelios Votsis is a name very known among the art scene in Cyprus and considered one of the leading figures in Cypriot modern art. He studied at St Martins School of Art in London and his works are very much a reflection of Cypriot modern history. His expressive and radical paintings are now in collections all over the world. Read his obituary here.

Mr. Stelios Votsis with one of his works at Zambartas Wineries in 2011

The biggest part of our art collection comes from Akis’ dear friend Hambis Tsangaris, Cyprus most well-known print maker, and founder of his own school and museum in Platenisteia Village. I personally met Hambis numerous times when he dropped by at the winery. His always warm and friendly smile, soft and engaging way of speaking and passion about Cypriot culture are immense and hard to ever forget. We feel that his art work is part of the soul of our winery and represents a part of Cyprus that we truly love.

Akis & Hambis together in Crete

We feel lucky to have the works of these inspiring people at the winery, because they represent the heart of Cyprus’ fine arts culture and we feel proud to show them to our visitors in our small winery. After all the most valuable gems are hidden in unexpected places…


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A Winemaker’s Wife Blog – ‘The grapegrower’

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

A winemaker’s wife

I have been contemplating for a long while about starting a blog, and decided that with the launch of our new website, the time has  come to finally pick up my pen. My next doubt was whether to write under a pen-name or just as me, Marleen. I choose a pen-name; ‘winemaker’s wife’. Not because I just define myself as the ‘the wife of’. That is way too non-feminist for me. Besides that I am a lot more than just a wife. I am a proud mum, a history geek, a traveller, a food lover and a bookworm.

No, I choose it because it catches what will be the subject of this blog. My life as the wife of a passionate winemaker and member of our family winery in the beautiful hills of Cyprus.  A life that 10 years ago would have sounded like a complete joke in my ears, but the joke became reality and here I find myself spending my days running around the family venture and our little son.

Marcos always jokes that our story is the ‘Hollywood story’ of falling in love on the other side of the world ( Australia in our case), pursuing the love and ending up happily ever after drinking wine in the Mediterranean sun…. Well, ofcourse it did not exactly go like that. The change from my bicycle friendly Dutch town Utrecht, full with friends and opportunities, to a small Mediterranean island was huge. No friends and no bicycles… I learned driving a car in no time, out of need.

Since then, the years have passed by and I gradually grew to love Cyprus. I started appreciating the blessing of the climate and the ever close proximity to the blue Mediterranean sea. I learned to love the Cypriot siga-siga (slowly-slowly), the local fresh food, the family ties, the friendliness of the people and the beauty of ‘small’. Most importantly I fell in love with its wine culture.

I have fully immersed myself in the new life and realised that our lifestyle, which by modern standards may be considered ‘rural’, is one that not a lot of young families consider so normal. Whereas most young Cypriots drive into town everyday for work, we only drive into town for fun&friends. A blessing, even if measured only by traffic frustrations.

It is exactly this ‘rural lifestyle’ of a young family running a winery, that I believe is worth blogging about. We come across so many funny situations in the winery, inspiring visitors, heartwarming people, cracking wines, and memorable moments. I want to share these with you, and make you a little bit part of the Zambartas family.

I will share with you our adventures, winefacts, the occasional recipe and mostly our passion for what we do.

Ow, and I promise, the next blog will not be about me. Enough.

A winemaker’s wife

The rediscovery of Cyprus’ grape varieties

Akis Zambartas, during his career as Oenologist in KEO, re-discovered 12 native Cypriot grape varieties. During the 3 year long pioneering research, Akis discovered, recorded, planted and vinified these varieties. This impressive contribution to the Cyprus viticulture granted Akis the membership to the prestigious International Academy of Wine (AIV).

Below you can read Akis’ account of the three year project, which shows his pivotal role in the rediscovery and saving of an important part of Cyprus viticulture heritage.

Having in mind the plethora of references by travelers, before and during the medieval times, about the numerous grape varieties in Cyprus and because of my love for the country, for our tradition and drawing from the faith for the future of the Cypriot viticulture, I started a research in our vineyards to detect those few and unique vines that old vine growers told that were planted by their grandfathers. Those vines were scattered in the Mavro and Xynisteri vineyards and with their grapes wine growers used to make their own wine for personal use. Those scarce, unknown vines were kept because of their colour, their aroma, their particular unique taste.  

With the encouragement of the late Panayiotis Psaras and with the help of the so early gone George Christodoulou we started the ‘Herculean task’ of discovering and indentifying these unique varieties. We scanned the whole of Cyprus. The reaction and the cooperation of the vine growers were remarkable. They would call to us daily to tell us that they also had ‘rare varieties’ in their vineyards, as they labeled them.

We went to their vineyards, we harvested a few kilos, and I micro-vinified them. We marked the plants to be able to take cuttings the following winter and multiply them.

This research lasted 3 years. We found 12 varieties. Most of them had a name. Many did not. I remembered we named one Michalias (Μιχαλιάς), after the name of the owner of the vineyard in the Panayia region. Another one was named Omoio (Ομοιο) because it looked like Maratheftiko. Another one was labeled Maroucho (Μαρούχο), because it was found in the vineyard of Marouchos in Panayia.

At the Pitisilia area we found that the “Pampakas” or “Pampakina” is synonymous of the variety Maratheftiko. The vine growers named it like this because at the back of its leaves there is a fluffy white layer to reduce evaporation .In the Cypriot dialect  this fluffy layer is called “παμπακι“ This is very characteristic of vines of the warmer Mediterranean countries. 

The native varieties of Cyprus are a national wealth that still needs more research and exploitation during these tough times of globalisation and the ruthless competition. 

According to the scientific methodology we followed, the second step was to gather all the varieties we identified, in one place. We would plant the few cuttings to multiply them.

It was then when my good friend Dionisios, the priest of the Chryssoroyiatissa monastery, created his winery. He shared the same passion for our tradition. He granted us a parcel of land close to his vineyards at the high mountains of Panayia, and there we created a vine nursery ‘The bank of the Cyprus varieties’ where we could source enough grapes to master the microvinifications. A task that would take at least five years to yield results.

From the varieties that we rediscovered, we mention the most important ones.

Maratheftiko (Μαραθεύτικο) or Pampakina (Παμπακίνα), Lefkada (Λευκάδα) which we vinified in the past but now we have created whole vineyards of many acres, Promara (Πρωμάρα), Spourtiko (Σπούρτικο), Flouriko (Φλούρικο), Yiannoudi (Γιαννούδι), Kanella (Κανέλλα), Omoio (Ομοιο), Morokanella (Μωροκανέλλα), Michalia (Μιχαλιάς) and Maroucho (Μαρούχος).    

From our own research 5 of these varieties hold more interest, because they have the potential to craft elegant and quality wines. Lefkada, Maratheftiko, Yiannoudi, Promara and Morokanella. The rest of the discovered varieties require more research in the future.

Lefkada is a ‘big’ variety. Very demanding during vinification, it gives structured wines, with a deep red colour, and with a subtle flavour, especially after it undergoes malolactic fermentation and careful barrel maturation. Its aromas of red fruit are intense and with time they perfect to a harmonious equilibrium.

Maratheftiko was more familiar variety. It is difficult to grow and unpredictable. It has to be planted with another variety that flowers at the same time, because Maratheftiko is not able to self pollinate, like 99% percent of the worlds grape varieties do. After long experiments we found the variety to use for the pollination: our own Spourtiko.

Maratheftiko is without doubt, the best variety of Cyprus. It has its own character and despite its problem being a female variety that does not self pollinate; it is recognized as a wine with great potential. Jancis Robinson described it as giving wines with the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon. Currently we believe it to be closer to Pinot Noir. Maratheftiko, when harvested and vinified correctly, gives rich intense red wines, with soft tannins and  characteristic aromas of coffee, cacao that blend harmonically with the vanilla aromas from the oak during careful ageing, not to cover its own aromas.

Yiannoudi also gave us some interesting wines. However, its cuttings are limited and its production minimal.

Ofthalmo was a disappointment.  Usually planted at the edges of vineyards, at the periphery of plots, it did not produce good wines. We planted single vineyards at the Pafos area, but the wines were weak and had no particular interest. More research needs to take place especially for white winemaking, to find out if the variety has more potential

From the white grape varieties, we singled out Morokanella. Widely spread at the beginning of the Ottoman occupation, it soon fell into decline due to the heavy taxation imposed by the Ottomans. 

The discovery of these varieties alone was not enough for their acknowledgement. We had to certify them as indigenous Cyprus varieties. There was one person with global recognition could help us by studying them and confirm our findings; my professor at the Wine school of Montpellier, ambelographer Pierre Galet. I invited him to Cyprus and after his scientific studies and through his bibliography, he supported that the varieties we identified are indigenous to Cyprus.  When he published his results, we felt very satisfied and happy, as the project now got international exposure. It turned out that some of the varieties were recorded at the end of the 19th century by French and Italian ampelographers.

With the help of Galet, we moved one step forward. Our request from the state to reintroduce the ‘re-discovered’ Cyprus varieties on a larger scale was granted, despite the fear of phylloxera spreading to the island.

Our next venture is well known. It was the creation of whole vineyards at the Mallia region to plant these varieties together with others, the international ones, for scientific cultivation, observation, research, vinification and the evaluation of our viti – vini potential. This herculean task was implemented with the help of a friend, Andreas Fettas.

So, after the visit of Galet, it can be said that the viticulture potential of Cyprus has been recorded and published with the name of one of the top ampelographers in the world. It is a very important heritage that all Cypriot vine growers and winemakers have to guard carefully.” 

Akis Zambartas