A Brief History of Wine-Making in Cyprus
An old practice
Wine making is a really old practice in the country. It is hard to precisely date the beginning of wine production in Cyprus, but one thing is sure – the wine making practice in Cyprus is one of the oldest in the world. Recent archaeological research found mosaic in Paphos attesting the fact that wine-making has been going on since the Antiquity.
Moreover, Cyprus wine also appears in Greek mythology: it is believed that god Dyonisos was fond of Cypriot wine. Cyprus can even brag about having the oldest wine designation in the world: the Commandaria, which has been introduced in 1192.
Good assets for wine business
The country possesses some assets that enable the Cypriot wine industry to flourish. The dry and warm climate of the island enabled a good growing of grape, especially in the mountains. It is not surprising then that wine-making has become a significant part of Cyprus business.
Plus, because of its ideal geographical situation, Cyprus has always been a commercial crossroad between the Occident (west) and the Orient (east). Thus, the country enjoyed a good location to sell its wine and had the opportunity to develop the wine business.
Cypriot wines were particularly appreciated by the nobility of France. During the Middle Age, the Commandaria was particularly trendy. In the 13th century, it won the first recorded wine testing competition called the Battle of Wine established by the French king Philip Augustus.
However, when Cyprus was integrated to the Ottoman Empire (between the 16Th and the 19th Century), the wine trade slowed down and really suffered from the high taxes imposed by the Empire and the Muslim traditions which forbid the consumption of alcohol. During that period, the wine production and the cultivation of grape almost stopped.
A revival of wine merchandising
Luckily, when Cyprus came under the control of the British government in 1878, they revitalize the production and the trade of wine.
Another event enabled the wine industry to experience a small boom. At the end of the 19th century, a phylloxera epidemic affected Europe and destroyed many vineyards. Because Cyprus is an island and had strict quarantine control, the country managed to remain untouched. This epidemic created a huge demand of Cyprus grapes and wines in Europe, enabling the business to flourish for a short time.
The period after the First World War was especially thriving for the wine business in Cyprus. At that time, Britain was dominating the Middle East, and provided its colonies with Cyprus wine. The country exported vast amounts of Cyprus Cherry. The success was so huge that major wine producers had to produce a huge amount of wine and privileged quantity over quality.
Developing wine trade
But in the rest of the world, people’s tastes were changing, and people were asking for better-quality wines. As a consequence, wine producers -especially the big producers- were encouraged to produce better wine. New varieties of grapes, more suitable to produce good wines, were introduced in the country. An Appellation of Origin, meant to protect Cypriot wines, was introduced as well. The government helped smaller wineries to develop their activity by granted them financial support.
The city of Limassol had the good and innovative idea to create the Wine Festival in 1961. The idea is to promote Cypriot wines by offering wine tasting to locals, and introduce foreigners to Cypriot wines. Since the beginning, the Festival was a huge success, and urged producers to produce good wines to be presented during the festival in the aim to be identified as high-quality wine creators.
The adhesion of Cyprus to the European Union gave another boost to the wine business: the country gets funding to maintain the vines, modernize the wineries and promote Cyprus wines. Joining the EU also enabled wineries to slowly export more and more Cypriot wine around the world.
In a word, wine-making has been going on for a long time. The history of Cypriot wines has been hectic, and the practice of wine-making still continues to play an important role in the economy of the country.