Winemaker’s Wife, “Winemaker’s Widow?”

August started and it seems the whole of Europe is on holidays. I receive pictures from all my friends on the beach, sightseeing and relaxing… From the moment I met Marcos, and we decided things would get ‘serious’, I knew that I would never be going for holidays anymore in August! Instead I would be either working hard or be at home waiting for him while he is busy with the harvest.

Over the years I got used to the idea that August to October are our peak months; grape sampling early in the morning, harvesting, sorting, fermenting, filling and emptying barrels, laboratory work, blending… The most crucial months of the year for a winery and therefore also the most intense and stressful for the winemaker. These are the months the wines need to be made and it is key to avoid mistakes and stay focused at all times.

Some years ago, Akis told me that during a harvest he and Marcos did in New Zealand, he heard of a club of women that called themselves the ‘Winemakers’ Widows’. Some strong Kiwi humour! They gathered up for drinks as winemakers’ spouses during harvest, because what to do when you hardly see your husband for 2 months? Right…you find women alike and you drink away your misery ?

The truth is that they can be tough months as Marcos gets up before dawn (and usually wakes me and Sebastian up without meaning to) and most evenings only comes back when Sebastian is deep asleep and I am trying to keep my eyes open for him. He comes home, either dusty from the vineyards or with a t-shirt full of juice stains, smelling of fermentations; but above all usually exhausted.

Did you know that during vintage the winemaker does rounds, 2x per day, just like a doctor sees his patients in the hospital? Instead of patients, the winemaker sees each of his tanks and ferments to measure their progress on fermentation, temperature, colour extraction and tannins. If you find out during your evening round that something is not going as planned you need to ‘fix’ it as soon as possible. I remember nights where Marcos worked all around the clock, because during the evening round it became clear they could not wait another 12 hours before pressing off a red wine from its skins, because it would get too tannic…

They are decisions that have to be made quickly, but well thought of and can have an irreversible impact on the final quality of the wine. During these months, there is only one focus and that is to make the best wine possible. Marcos lives in his own world and always jokes he only answers the phone to me, his mom and our viticulturalist Christodoulos. Well…at least I am still first in his list!

Don’t think though that I am suffering too much from all of this. Of course I also ‘live the excitement’ of the harvest as new wines are being made and energy levels at the winery are high! I make my contribution by bringing the team some homemade cakes and snacks to keep going or take Sebastian to ‘help’ his dad for a couple of hours. He already fills up buckets with water if needed!

When the end of October comes, the evenings get cooler and the last grapes are processed, I slowly get back my husband and our family life. That is always satisfying, especially when we can have a first taste of the new wines together and cheer to a successful vintage!

Wild boars, a city girl and a big appetite for learning the craft! – Meet this year’s interns at Zambartas

This year our vintage team is joined by Marie Tabar, 3rd year student of Enology at SupAgro Montpellier and Natalia Kataiftsi, who just finished her masters in Viticulture & Enology in Thessaloniki. Marie will be assisting Marcos in the winery, whereas Natalia’s focus will be mostly on the vineyards, where she helps Christodoulos.

So ladies, let’s introduce you to our readers! Where & how did you grow up?

Marie I have grown up in a little village of south of France, close to Montpellier, hidden in the country side. My father is also winemaker, and I used to help him in the vineyards since I was young but I really started to learn about viticulture and oenology since February in Montpellier SupAgro. We are also cultivating cépages that you find here in Cyprus like Mourvèdre, Syrah and Alicante Bouschet. In the south of France, we have got our own problems in the vineyards; like wild boars eating all the grapes when the harvest season begins and why not also to have a little stroll inside the winery!

Natalia I am from Thessaloniki, the second biggest city of Greece and I have lived there my whole life. So, I’m a city girl!  I live in an apartment with my parents and I ‘love’ how close we are with my neighbours… I am one of twins; please don’t ask me if we look like, because my answer is that ‘all twins are different’!  Living in a big city, I didn’t have any relation with vineyards or wineries, but it’s never too late…

Natalia, coming from a big city, how do you deal with the rural life? Any fears?

Haha! Yes, I have a lot of fears, such as the quietness of the village, the variety of the fauna (like insects, spiders and some other lovely organisms) and the ‘clean’ air!

How did your interest in wine develop?

Marie I have always been interested in agriculture and I started studying agronomy in Clermont-Ferrand first. After some internships in the wine field, I have chosen to follow the viticulture and oenology option in Montpellier to get specialized and be able to work in wineries.

Natalia A lot of people know early what is the purpose of their life; “become a doctor or a professor”. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in this category, it took me some years to understand that I wanted to occupy myself with the wine production. So, it was just in the second year of my undergraduate program when I realised what I wanted. I then followed the Master of Oenology and Viticulture in Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I love wine and I think that it is a very “elegant” product that every person can find the wine which suits it to him/her. I feel that it also expresses our civilization. If we can produce great wines, it means that we are citizens with great expectations for our life and for our society.

What is your favourite food & wine combination?

Marie I really enjoy having a Sunday lunch in family with a leg of lamb and a Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape!

Natalia A great combination of food and drink means automatically the great experience we lived in a specific day, with the specific people and with your specific feeling or mood. So, when I was in Paris for my brother’s graduation, we went to a supermarket and as we didn’t have a lot of money, we bought a French red dry wine, a French baguette and some French cheeses like Camembert, Roquefort etc, and then we went to the cosy “Airbnb” house which we rented and had our wine. It was nothing ‘special’, but it was something that I kept in my memory.  

What is your first impression of Cyprus vineyards and wines?

Marie The first thing that surprised me in Cyprus is the topography of the vineyards. I am not used to see the vines in terraces like here. I didn’t think either that I would find cépages from France like Sémillon!

Natalia A lot of small scattered plots of vineyards in sometimes ‘desert’ like conditions and the high quality of their wines! It’s just amazing. This shows us that the vineyards are “organisms”, which can adjust to a wide range of environments.

What do you expect to learn during your stay with us?

Marie This is my first real vintage, so I hope to learn as much as possible about how to decide the dates of harvest, how to deal with the grapes arriving in the winery, and of course how to make a good wine with it!

Natalia I hope to learn as much as possible during my short stay in your winery. From viticulture practices to the vinification processes. From wine tourism to contacts with “friends of wine”.  Whatever I learn will be beneficial to me!

Last, but not least; tell us your favourite wine related expression!

Marie Après la soupe un verre de vin évite la visite du médecin!  – ‘After the soup, a glass of wine to prevent us from a doctor’s visit!’

Natalia Τα δικά σου αμπέλια φράξε και τα ξένα μην γυρεύεις – ‘Fence your own vineyards and don’t go around in the other’s’ –  Basically this means that people should mind their own business, before bothering what others do!

Thanks ladies and welcome again to Cyprus!