Wine in Cyprus: Vasa – A model for the future

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CYPRUS GOURMET

By Patrick Skinner

Pambos Argyrides returned to Cyprus in 1985 after 15 years in South Africa. He was a founder of the immensely successful potato chip and snack manufacturer “Corina”, eventually selling out to the giant Lay’s company several years ago. He decided to devote himself to wine and the restoration of the family home and winery in Vasa. But his passion for wine was a new thing. Even in South Africa, home to some wonderfully fragrant and fruity wines, he had not developed an interest.
“Then in 1992, it all changed”, he told me. “My father, retired, had still made some wine each year, from our own vineyards’ Mataro grapes. He made it in a Pithari, with great care and it was very popular with family and friends. So much so that in 1991 he decided to fill two Pitharia. After everyone had had some, what was left filled half of one Pithari. So we sealed it and left it for some months. When we opened it – we found we had vinegar”.
Pambos was intrigued. He wanted to know why. So he took samples to Andreas Frangos at the Viticulture and Viniculture department in Limassol. “No-one could have been kinder, more informative or more helpful”, says Pambos. Enthused, he followed the meeting by attending Andreas Frangos’s evening courses for intending winemakers and vinophiles. “Andreas brought wine to life for me, making the subject so alive and so exciting. I was hooked”.
I consider Pambos Argyrides a seeker after perfection. One visit to Vasa demonstrates that. But he is a man who doesn’t try to do it all himself. He has surrounded himself with professional people, be they designers, artists, stonemasons or oenologists. So it was hardly surprising that his vineyards, both old family ones and new ones, have burgeoned, or that his winery is state-of-the-art, or the residence next door comfortable and tasteful.
Criticism is sought. The Burgundian giants Michel Picard and Alberic Bichot have both been to Vasa recently. “Michel Picard said he thought my wines good”, says Pambos, “I asked him: ‘Please be honest – I want to know what you really think’.”
A valuable exchange followed. As I sat with Pambos and tasted vintages of Maratheftiko it was clear he wanted my deepest thoughts, too. This bespoke passion.
Association with professionals is exemplified in wine-making where Koilani’s Sophocleous Vlassides is consultant oenologist and in marketing, where he has joined forces with Vlassides and Pelendri’s Costas Tsiakkas in an organization distributing the product of the three wineries. “A logical arrangement”, he says. “Like minds, and very few overlapping products”.
Pambos admits that when he started the whole project that it was a hobby. Then two things changed his mind. Firstly, as old vineyards were improved and new ones came on stream, the wine production potential moved into the commercial category. Secondly, one of his daughters, Rebecca, took a marketing degree in the USA and expressed interest in the wine business. She is now on board Vasa winery.
The Argyrides story seems like a model for the future of Cyprus wine: well financed, family-run business, family-owned vineyards; award-winning and popular wines; professional people in each aspect of the vine growing and wine-making process. No doubt, as for all of us, there will be testing times ahead, but for now, Vasa as in the vanguard of progress.