A visit to London before the Christmas holidays and I like to check out the decorations. Snowflakes, pine trees and feathers, with lots of colour and dazzle, seem to be some of the motifs this year. My camera isn’t poised ready for them all but here are blue snowflakes and red and green vertical pine tree decorations:
Christmas lights in Mayfair
Christmas holiday decorations
Another stop along the way of special places is the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation in the forecourt creates a powerful image for me of fluid shape and colour, enhanced by a brilliant blue November sky.
Royal Academy of Arts – Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation
Walking along Pall Mall one morning I hear a band playing and drawn like a magnet to the sound, I find a small ceremony with a military band at the Yard entrance to St James’s Palace.
Ceremony at St James’s Palace
Towards the end of that day, I head towards Berry Bros and Rudd, wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century. Another favourite haunt, this time combining history and fine wine where I have enjoyed Berry’s Own Selection of wines and wine events.
Berry Bros and Rudd – wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century
Berry Bros and Rudd – part of their own selection
In general chit chat with the wine consultant, I ask about Canadian wine and Bergerac wine region offerings. The Canadian selections focus on ice wines from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia including an ice cider. While I haven’t tasted this selection of Domaine de Grand Pré, Pomme d’Or, I have tasted other ice ciders and they are worth every sip of nectar: delicious. Nothing from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.
The wine selection from the Bergerac Wine Region is limited to Chateau Thénac and no Monbazillac or Saussignac late harvest wines are listed.
In reflecting upon these gaps in their wine list, I realize that these geographic areas of interest to me typically have small production volumes and that this can be a challenge for both wine producers and wine importers considering new markets.
I am pleased to see that a Maratheftiko red wine from Zambartas Wineries in Cyprus is still offered together with a Commandaria.
After all this exploring in London’s St. James’s area, a post-jet lag treat seems in order. What better than a glass of champagne. I enquire about the Bollinger selection, one of our favourites. A half bottle of Bollinger Rosé fits the bill.
This champagne is dominated by Pinot Noir which is known to give body and structure. The Berry Bros and Rudd employee suggests it will go well with game in a wine and food pairing and I take note for future reference. We enjoy it solo, with a handful of home roasted nuts: characteristic tight bubbles, crisp and dry, subtle fruit nuance yet savoury, refreshing. A champagne that really stands on its own.
I arrive at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue to talk to the co-proprietor, Caro Feely about their winemaking and wine tourism business. On my way here, walking down the country lane towards their farm past the Saussignac Cemetery, dignified yet colourful with the many pots of commemorative flowers, I reflect upon the niche that Caro and Sean have carved for themselves in the highly competitive wine making business.
Sean and Caro have been in Saussignac, a small village in the Bergerac wine region in the Dordogne since 2005. That was the year they changed their life and moved from corporate lives in Ireland to become wine makers in the Dordogne. Their initiation to their new life is a compelling read in Caro’s book: Grape Expectations: A Family’s Vineyard Adventure in France. It’s a page turning book and the reason for my sense of awe when I meet this low-key yet dynamic couple.
Autumn view from Terroir Feely
Always intrigued by the process through which people create major life changes, I read Caro’s book with this sense of enquiry in mind. Caro and Sean embarked upon a new lifestyle of considerable uncertainty: no wine-making experience when they started, language barriers, the burden of French bureaucracy, two small daughters to raise and a host of other challenges. Yet, they had personal qualities of perseverance, adaptability, optimism and drive together with experience in marketing and financial management. These personal attributes and competencies have stood them in good stead. On top of this, their passion for the life-style, the land and region, and organic, sustainable and now biodynamic farming has fueled their energy to make it all happen.
Learning to make good wine wasn’t enough to succeed. Caro has said that the transition to their new life was “beyond hard”. They soon realized that they needed to diversify in order to survive financially. This in turn led to the creation of French Wine Adventures with wine courses; wine walks with vineyard lunches, the Harvest Weekend, and the building of their ecological accommodation at the vineyard. Their brand new swimming pool opens this season. In other words, they have created a biodynamic virtuous circle of wine making and wine tourism.
Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue is a Certified Biodynamic farm of approximately 10 hectares under vines. Demeter, the internationally recognized biodynamic certifying body, certified Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue as biodynamic in 2011 following their organic certification from Ecocert in 2009. In addition, The Great Wine Capitals Network recognized Terroir Feely as the Regional Winner for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices in 2013. Their wines are also gaining recognition for quality.
Best of Wine Tourism 2013 Award
I ask Caro what draws people to visit them at Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue. She doesn’t hesitate to respond:
“ We are passionate about what we do and we create a personal experience for people. We share common interests with our visitors. We are eco-friendly; we make certified biodynamic wines; we have ecological buildings. People come to enjoy the vineyard and participate in our Harvest Weekend which is the first weekend in October.”
We talk about wine farming practices and their evolution from organic to biodynamic status in 2011.
Caro explains that it takes 3 years to convert to biodynamic status. Farming practices are introduced in which the vineyard is cultivated as part of a whole farm system. It involves making and using preparations for the soil and plants from plant and manure materials as well as caring for the vines and the soil according to the biodynamic calendar which suggests times to sow, harvest, prune in synch with phases of the moon. She tells me that since they have been following the strict biodynamic approaches that more orchids have appeared on the farm as well as greater biodiversity. She also believes these practices have benefitted their wines!
Caro says that until she saw the difference biodynamic practices made to their farm, she thought that biodynamics sounded like “dancing with the fairies”. To gain a better understanding myself, I subsequently looked up various sources and websites including: Demeter, various Rudolf Steiner sites, Berry Bros and Rudd Wine Merchants. There is a lot of material about the subject.
In brief, biodynamic agriculture originates in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and agronomist who lived from 1861 – 1926. He gave a famous agricultural series of lectures in 1924, which predate most of the organic movement. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual philosophy called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic and the spiritual dimensions in nature. One of Rudolf Steiner’s greatest admirers was Maria Thun (1922 – 2012) who created an annual biodynamic gardening calendar that Caro refers to on the Terroir Feely/Chateau Haut Garrigue website.
The name Rudolf Steiner was familiar to me because of his influence in education. Waldorf Schools which originated from his humanistic approaches to education are in evidence today in about 60 countries.
From a viticulture perspective, biodynamics views the farm as a cohesive, interconnected living system. For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic by Demeter, the vine-grower must use the 9 biodynamic preparations described by Rudolf Steiner. These are all preparations made from plants or manure and applied to the plants and soil.
Biodynamics in viticulture is growing and is practiced by farmers in several countries including France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Chile, South Africa, Canada and the US. While organic and biodynamic farming doesn’t guarantee great wine, it appears that there is a tendency for wines made with these farming practices to be more highly scored by consumers with respect to expressions of terroir, balance and more vibrant tastes. Tasters indicate that biodynamic wines are more floral in flavour.
In general, there is a continuum of farming approaches progressing away from industrial practices that rely on chemicals towards using fewer chemical interventions and introducing more sustainable practices leading to organic and biodynamic approaches. Farming interventions are regulated in the EU, as elsewhere, including the use of mineral substances like copper and sulphur which are permitted in all approaches to wine farming along the continuum– it’s a question of degree.
Literature about biodynamic wine making refers to Certified Biodynamic wine making and also to wine makers who practice “broadly biodynamic” farming approaches. This implies that they subscribe to and follow many of the biodynamic practices yet do not pursue the biodynamic certification. From our observation visiting many wine makers, this translates into the ever-increasing attention to improved agricultural practices, which is positive for the land, the farmers themselves and the consumer. Caro and Sean have gone that step further in following the rigorous standards for their farm to be Certified Biodynamic.
Caro tells me that; “ …the Bergerac Wine Region has the highest number of organic wine producers in France after Alsace.”
All to say that the dialogue around farming practices is increasing and the interest in biodynamics is growing. In a competitive wine world, it’s worth noting that over the past 10 years there has been significant growth in the sales of biodynamic wines as consumers shift their interest to biodynamic and sustainable practices.
It’s 9 years since Caro and Sean made their major lifestyle and career leap of faith into wine making in the Dordogne. Since 2007, they have been practising biodynamic wine making, achieving their certification in 2011. I have tasted their wines several times over the years and I particularly like their Sauvignon Blanc, “Sincérité”.
Terre de Vins 2013 recommendation
Caro and Sean have been generous with their time talking to me about their vineyard adventures to date. I close my notebook and say my goodbyes. It’s time to let Caro and Sean get back to their work.
It’s a very rainy Cyprus day in February after a dry January. Highlighting the contrast between a wet today and many dry yesterdays, the heavy rain seems oppressive as we drive along the highway to the Limassol area.
We arrive in the village of Agios Amvrosios looking for Zambartas Wineries. I phone to check their location in the village and am told the person we are scheduled to meet had to go to Nicosia urgently. My heart sinks as we have been looking forward to this visit.
Map of Cyprus
Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries
Fortunately, all is not lost as the man on the phone invites us to continue with our visit. He will show us around. This is not only good; it’s fantastic when I realize that our host is Dr. Akis Zambartas, the founder of the winery. The stars have aligned to make this a memorable visit with one of the gurus of wine making in Cyprus.
Zambartas Wineries is a boutique winery founded in 2006 by Dr. Akis Zambartas in the Krasochoria Wine Region on the south facing slopes of the Troodos Mountains. The focus is on the production of quality wines while employing environmentally friendly practices. Akis has been joined in this enterprise by his son Marcos and daughter in law, Marleen.
Father and son are highly qualified scientists. Both are chemists with further degrees in oenology. Akis took his Ph.D. in chemistry at Lyon University in France followed by a degree in oenology from Montpelier University, famous for its oenology program. Not only is Akis a scientist he also has a wealth of business experience from a previous role as a chief executive officer in the wine and spirit industry in Cyprus. He has also been a pioneer in the discovery of Cyprus grape varieties. Marcos took a graduate degree in chemistry from Imperial College, London, followed by a degree in oenology from the School of Oenology, Adelaide University.
Dr. Akis Zambartas opening wine during our visit
After our mutual introductions, we tour the winery and meet Stefan another key member of the team. We move to the Tasting Room overlooking the winery and begin our exploration of the suite of Zambartas wines, which include several indigenous varieties. We enjoy them all. The ones that capture our attention are:
Zambartas Rosé. This is their flagship wine. It is a blend of Lefkada (a local indigenous variety) and Cabernet Franc. This is a ripe, red berry and strawberry style Rosé with cherry flavours on the nose, good acidity and freshness.
Xynisteri white wine
Lefkada-Cabernet Franc Rosé
Maratheftiko red wine – indigenous variety
Zambartas Xynisteri is a white wine from the Xynisteri indigenous grape. I increasingly enjoy this indigenous variety. For my palate, the experience is like having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with traces of Pinot Grigio. The lemony, white fruit and honeyed fresh flavour with good acidity makes this my favourite glass of wine at lunchtime with a fig and Cyprus goat cheese salad.
Zambartas Maratheftiko is a red wine from the Maratheftiko indigenous vine. These vines can be challenging to grow yet the resulting wine is worth the efforts of the winemakers. There are subtle herbal flavours as well as those of violets. It’s a more delicate wine than its full colour would suggest and requires some thoughtful food pairing. Cheese, veal would be good choices.
In challenging economic times in Cyprus, Akis and Marcos have been enterprising in their marketing. They have remained true to their vision of making quality wine at Zambartas Wineries and steadily increasing their production and expanding their markets. Their boutique winery of currently 60,000 bottles per year has increased both its domestic and export reach.
Most exciting for wine drinkers in the UK is that Berry Bros and Rudd, the oldest wine and spirit merchants in the UK who have had their offices at No.3, St. James’s, London since 1698, now list Zambartas Maratheftiko.
Not only is Berry Bros and Rudd representing their Maratheftiko but Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide 2014 also mentions Zambartas Wineries. There appears to be increasing interest in “island wines” and Zambartas Wineries is riding this wave.
We spend a very enjoyable hour or so talking with Akis who is able to describe complex matters in straightforward terms. We hear about their environmental practices, how they apply science to their viticulture decisions, the locations of their parcels of vines, the geology of different sites, their sustainability objectives as well as their efforts to support important initiatives in the evolution of Cyprus wine making.
I ask Akis for his thoughts on the future of wine making in Cyprus. He says it will be important to continue the modernization of practices and to use and apply knowledge: both the academic knowledge of science and oenology and also the intuitive connection and experiential knowledge of the land and the vines. Akis says that the future of Zambartas Wineries is with his son, Marcos. This is another example of the power of intergenerational legacies in the wine-making world that we have seen elsewhere.
The heaviness of the rain at the beginning of our visit lifts and soon the sunshine returns. The almond blossom, harbinger of Spring in Cyprus, opens in the orchards and the annual renewal of nature begins.
The arrival of Spring – Paphos area
Back in British Columbia and it turns out we have another interest in common: TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) whose vision is generating “ideas worth spreading”.
Zambartas Wineries was a sponsor of a TEDX Nicosia event. These are locally organized events held under a TED license to start a community conversation about issues of concern. Followers of TED will know that the TED 2014 Conference was recently held in Vancouver. We watched some of the live sessions broadcast for free to local residents via the library system.
We greatly enjoyed our visit to the Zambartas Wineries and our time with Akis. Whenever I think of our visit, I feel inspired by the dynamism, sense of purpose and the results the family has achieved in a relatively short period of time.
References: www.zambartaswineries.com., www.bbr.com (Berry Bros and Rudd)