THE mountain slopes above Alsancak have been transformed in preparation for Cyprus's first all-in-one “wine estate”, which promises high-quality local vintages from its own lush vineyards as well as a hotel, tourism and educational centre, spa, restaurant and wine bar offering panoramic views across the plantation, the mountains and the sea below.
The curtain goes up this weekend on the first stage of the scheme: the Etel Winery, whose vineyards sprawl across some 40 dönüms of hillside at Ilgaz.
In a joint venture by English entrepeneur Paul Gillham and local developer, Eurocoast, it is to be complemented on the 50-dönüm estate next year by the Gillham Vineyard Hotel and the Gillham's Wine Culture tourism centre intended to run wine tours, tastings, talks and short courses.
An à la carte chef described by the team behind the ambitious venture as “one of the top 10 internationally” is also to be brought in to offer restaurant diners “a brand new gastronomical experience” -- and has already delighted behind the scenes, with dishes made from local produce served up at a tasting last December.
Already more than two-years in the making, the site now boasts 10,540 vines imported from Israel, predicted to produce an average one tonne of grapes per dönüm – enough for up to 70,000 bottles of wine.
Overseas experts – including winery, tourism and ergonomics professionals who have worked in Australia, France and Israel -- have been brought in to train local staff, with the expectation that the fully functioning estate will have a workforce of 65.
Marketing and sales manager Natalie Haigh said: “We want to revive a tradition . . . of wine-making that dates back to the Bronze Age, 5,000 years ago – when wine was first recorded to have been made in Cyprus -- to make North Cyprus a pioneer for international wines.
“The owners have a passion for wine and food [and want] to combine all of this in one project -- to have top quality wine and food . . . and bring something different to North Cyprus.”
Winery manager Lin Gold, an internationally experienced wine maker, hailed the owners of the estate for their “passion . . . for wine, enjoying life, music and socialising”, saying the new venture was about “belief and lifestyle” as well as profitable business.
She explained: “We grow eight different varieties of grapes . . . Sauvignon blanc and Chenin blanc for white wine, and from Cabernet to Syrah for red, to name a few, so we are on to something good.”
Asked how they would cope with the Cypriot soil and long, hot, dry summers while producing quality grapes, she said: “Grapes are grown everywhere except Alaska. The question is knowing what you are against . . . so if . . . we don't have a lot of precipitation, we can irrigate.
“In France, irrigation is not allowed by law in order to produce wine, but here this is not the case.
“We chose [grape varieties] that are suitable for growing and giving good results in this climate.
“The vineyard is located downwards, on a slope which creates a well-aerated valley so although it is a humid place, we get a lot of breezes from the sea.
“So we took natural conditions, evaluated them, and thoughtfully planned out how best to plant, what to plant and where to plant.”
Mrs Gold added: “The vines are quite young and are currently producing about 30 per cent of their mature capacity.
“It is my job to check out each plot. If [the vines] get heavy we need to cut them to concentrate the flavours and get better quality. As we are a boutique and quality-focused winery we are doing whatever is best to get the best result, so the quality of the fruit is paramount. Quality above quantity.
“As a wine maker, being an estate winery – which means we grow our own fruit and are not dependent on another provider – means I have the power to make decisions on what's best for the wine that we would like to create. That’s a tremendous power.”
Vintage apart, the venture as a whole aims to create a “brand new culture -- a wine culture” in North Cyprus
Mrs Haigh said: “We are a big group that combines the tourism industry, agriculture and education.
“The luxury boutique hotel will eventually have 31 high-quality rooms, due to open in spring next year, and we are also going to have a wine spa, which doesn't exist on the island, [withe the motto] 'My garbage is her pleasure’. So, whatever is not used in wine production will be used to produce pampering creams, facials, face masks, peels and moisturisers, plus a health-related wine bath.”
She added of the wine culture centre currently under construction: “We want tourists, perhaps on day trips to Girne, to come up, have a couple of hours learning, touring the estate and seeing the vineyards, wine tasting and buying some wine – or even to participate in a course, if they actually want to learn about and appreciate wine, and how it's made, from the crop to the glass.
“A VIP room will be available for people to arrange meetings and corporate events, and there will be conference facilities.”
Tomorrow sees the winery open its doors to the public, giving visitors the chance to taste four different types of wines, produced especially for Etel at their twin wineries, see the vineyards and meet the team.
Tickets for the adult-only open day cost 30TL on the door, to include four wine tastings and the chance to purchase wine at a 30TL discount. For more information call Mrs Haigh on 0533 850 8403.
How Etel wine will be made
WINE-maker Mrs Gold outlined the procedure whereby grapes will be “hand-picked and personally checked”. She explained the stages that will take place: “We choose the best day or peak time to pick the grape, when they have achieved the perfect maturity.”
“We will physically pick the grapes, and do it at night as that's the lowest temperature, which is best for quality,” she said, underlining that harvesting is “not about just picking grapes and bunging them in”, but means individually checking the fruit to ensure it is of high quality.
The harvested grapes will then go through different machinery at the winery, starting with the crushing process which breaks the grapes, allowing the juice, pulp and seeds to mingle with the skins and stems of the fruit. “The crush literally gets a grape’s juices flowing and is the first step in the process that turns fresh, delicate fruit into delicious, shelf-stable wine.”
Depending on whether it is production of red or white wine, the juice will either be placed into a tank to start the fermenting on the skins – in the case of red – or, for white wine, the grapes will go into a press which squeezes them against a screen like a balloon that expands, generating pure grape juice.
Next comes the fermentation process, during which yeast is used to convert the sugar in the fruit into alcohol, producing a very young wine after about two weeks.
“After that, depending on what kind of wine is desired, there is an additional ageing process, when the wine is put into a barrel. For white wine a stabilisation process is undertaken,” said Mrs Gold.
“Our fastest white will be ready by winter and red, going into barrels for at least a year, will be ready for bottling at least a year and a half later. Then there will be a need for some bottle maturation as well, the wine being regularly tasted until we feel it is ready to be released.”
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