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Sustainable Cypriot wines may soon take root in South Australia

Greek Cypriot wine maker Marcos Zambartas (U) and Australian enologist Alexander Copper from the University of Adelaide. Source: Supplied

A Cypriot winery and the University of Adelaide are investigating whether two grape varieties from Cyprus will grow well in Australia, potentially leading to more sustainable varietals that can better withstand drought.

As the globe’s climate grows warmer, two Cypriot grape varieties have caught the eye of the Australian researchers for their tolerance to drought conditions.

“We are seeing increasing temperatures and increasing frequency of heatwaves in southern Australia and this is affecting vine harvest and putting more and more pressure on water resources,” says University of Adelaide PhD student Alexander Copper.

“These varieties are very drought tolerant in Cyprus, often grown without any irrigation, and it is hoped they will be able to grow in Australian conditions with minimal to no irrigation.” 

Winemaker Marcos Zambartas.
Winemaker Marcos Zambartas.

Copper hopes that Cypriot wine will be an environmentally sustainable alternative to other popular wines, such as the French varieties. French wine is popular in Australia but it is traditionally grown in a place with high rainfall, or, if grown in Australia, through irrigation.

He says that Cypriot varieties are more tolerant than French vines, and potentially even more than those of Italy, Spain and Portugal.

“I believe that Cypriot varieties will be more drought-tolerant than these. They have been cultivated for thousands of years in Cyprus, tolerating very hot, dry summers, surviving on winter rainfall alone, very similar to our climate here in South Australia.”

Enologist Alexander Copper.
Enologist Alexander Copper.

A world of wine

At the other end of the project is Zambartas Wineries, a Cypriot winery exporting to Switzerland, Germany and Poland. The company’s owner, Marcos Zambartas  comes from a family of winemakers.

“Our winery is a relatively new business - 12 years old,” says Zambartas. “My father started it and he had 40 years of experience in the winemaking sector. We deal mostly in Cypriot wine varieties, and produce around 100,000 bottles per year. So a small business for European standards.”

Australia is a place of special significance for Mr Zambartas as he completed a Masters of Enology in Adelaide. His first degree was in chemistry, at the Imperial College in London.

“I asked university professors, enologists, Masters of Wine and other winemakers and they all said that the best place to study winemaking is Down Under, in Adelaide,” says Mr. Zambartas, adding that his studies in Australia can apply to Cyprus, as well.

“Cyprus and South Australia have very similar environments, so the winemaking methods that I learned in Adelaide could be used in Cyprus without requiring major modifications.”

Australia was an important time in his life, not only because of his professional development but also because it was there his met his partner, Marleen. They work together in the winery.   

Grapes for wine making.
Grapes for wine making.

His interest in wine began due to a love for chemistry.

“There’s a lot of chemistry in winemaking and I liked that. Also through wine you can have a career with international scope, since it’s a global product. In addition, when I began, both winemaking and enology were in decline in Cyprus. They have only recently begun picking back up again. It was an unusual option back then and that inspired me.”

As far as the collaboration with the university is concerned, Mr. Zambartas is very pleased. He hopes that this project will open the door for his company to start doing business in Australia.

At Zambartas family winery.
At Zambartas family winery.

The varieties

The two varieties under investigation are Xynisteri, a white wine, and Maratheftiko, a red. They were recently released from Australian quarantine and are currently propagating in the university’s Waite Campus.

“Xynisteri’s fragrance and flavor comes primarily from citrus fruits," says Mr Zambartas. “Maratheftiko has a fragrance coming from black fruits and dark flowers like violets. They are not similar to French varieties which are more berry-like.”

Associate professor Cassandra Collins in the University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine is one of Mr. Copper’s supervisors. She says that that so far, consumers are enjoying these varieties.

"The first part of Alexander’s project was to assess consumer response to these wines, which has been positive," she said.

The collaboration includes trials in both Cyprus and Australia, under irrigated and drought conditions. The results from Cyprus should be out by early 2020. Researchers expect that the data from the trial at the Waite Campus will be ready for publication in Autumn 2021.

Press Play on the main photo to listen the interview with winemaker Marcos Zambartas (in Greek)

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