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Small Producers Lead Wine Revolt

June 29, 1999

AYIOS AMVROSIOS, Cyprus (AP) _ George and Ioanna Yiallouros took up wine making to escape city life. Ioanna and Iannis Ioannides are in it because they love making wine.

Both couples are part of an explosion of small wineries in Cyprus’ grape-growing region on the southern and southwestern slopes of the Troodos mountain chain.

Most of the small wineries, nearly 40 in all, have sprung up in the past 10 years on this sunny island at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

The newcomers have given depth to the industry by introducing new labels and making high-quality wines and are becoming a source of worry to larger, older wineries as well as wine importers.

``Making wine was the only way to earn a living in this part of Cyprus,″ said Ioanna Yiallouros, who together with her husband, George, left the capital, Nicosia, in 1988 for the tiny village of Ayios Amvrosios in the heart of the grape-growing region of Cyprus. They now own a winery that produces 120,000 bottles a year.

A short drive across the hills is the village of Kilani, where Ioanna and Iannis Ioannides produce 50,000 to 60,000 bottles a year.

``We certainly don’t need more money,″ said Ioanna, 60, whose physician husband has a practice in the coastal city of Limassol. ``We have for years been making wine at home for ourselves and friends, then we attended a course in oenology, read a lot about wine and started the winery in 1983.″

Christos Lambouris, a 57-year-old vineyard owner in the mountain village of Platres, became a full-time wine maker in 1998 after 35 years with the island’s electricity company. He produces 20,000 bottles a year.

``It is good that we have many wineries now. It means that everyone must compete to improve,″ he said.

Such operations are dwarfed by wineries like KEO, the largest in Cyprus, with a storage capacity of nearly 12 million gallons. The other main wineries are ETKO, LOEL and SODAP.

The newcomers have entered the market as a growing number of their countrymen are switching to wine from brandy and whisky with their food. Cyprus’s 700,000 people now drink on average about 3 1/4 gallons of wine a year _ less than half the consumption in other wine-producing countries in Europe.

The island has also attracted an average of 2 million tourists every year in the 1990s, and their consumption has helped boost sales.

But while domestic consumption has moved up to about 2 million gallons a year, exports have slipped steadily from 13 million gallons in 1995 to 6.3 million gallons last year.

The Trade and Industry Ministry cited the island’s distance from consumption centers, EU subsidies to member-states and high import tariffs as factors contributing to the export slump.

``Market conditions are very difficult and we must reduce our costs and further improve the quality of our wines,″ said Sotiris Theothosiou, chairman of the industry’s regulatory body, the Vine Products Commission.

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