Ancient History of Cyprus Wine

Ancient History of Cyprus Wine

It is still unknown how far back Cyprus wine history goes, but one thing is for certain, and that is the Cypriot are the oldest wine producers in the world. And the claim is backed by scientific proof that the winemakers of Cyprus have been making high quality since the beginning of time.

Cyprus Wine Shipwreck

While the exact date when wine production was first introduced in Cyprus is still unknown, what is known is that wine was traded as early as 2300 BC, which was the date of a shipwreck that carried more than 2,500 amphorae. Amphora is a container used to ship wine during those times and they were mostly made of ceramic, but some have other materials found in them. Researchers don’t know about the origin and destination of the shipwreck, but it was found along the trade route between Egypt and Greece. It is likely that the ship passed through Cyprus at some point of its journey to pick up the wine.

Kyrenia Shipwreck
Kyrenia Shipwreck

Bronze Age Perfumery

Archaeologists have discovered a perfumery near the village of Pyrgos and it is said that the perfumery dated back to the Bronze Age. They also found a winery, copper smelting works, and an olive press near the perfumery along with grape seeds and wine containers also found on the site. That means the Cyprus wine industry was already established during the Bronze Age. It is proof that there’s a very long Cyprus wine history even before the time of the Romans in Cyprus.

Wine Containers of Erimi

In 1993, several containers were found in Erimi by Dr. Porphyrios Dikaios, an archaeologist and important figure in Cypriot archaeology circle. He made the excavations from 1932 to 1935 and found several parts of round flasks together with other artefacts. However, the important facts about his discoveries were made after his death.

The fragments were left in the storage room of the Cyprus Museum where they remained unwashed inside wooden boxes. In 2005, they were examined by Italian archaeologists who found traces of tartaric acid, and the containers were dated to be 5,500 years old. They concluded that flasks were used to hold wine and the Cypriots were already producing wine a lot earlier than the Greeks. They estimated that they were ahead by at least 1,500 years.

So long before the Paphos mosaics were made, Cyprus was already producing wine. It should be worth knowing that the vine is one of the few plants that were cultivated even during ancient times. Grape seeds were found in tombs that dated back to 5000 BC and it was believed that the ancient vineyards of Cyprus led to the spread of winemaking in the ancient world.

This is the ancient Cyprus wine history. Cypriots were leaders when it comes to making wine ever since the ancient times. The next part of the Cyprus wine history will take you through the Medieval ages to the 19th Century. You’ll learn how the Romans loved the wine of the island and a lot more. 

[This is a 3 part series - to read part 2 about the Medieval History of Cyprus Wine, click here or to read about Modern Cyprus Wine, click here].

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Medieval History of Cyprus Wine

Cyprus Wine History- Medieval to the 19th Century

[This is a 3 part series - to read part 1 about the Ancient History of Cyprus Wine, click here or to read about modern Cyprus wine, click here].

Cyprus wine history is related to the island nation’s own history. It depends on who was ruling the island, and what they preferred to drink. Since ancient times, Cyprus wine has been sought after by people within the region. And that’s why it came as no surprise that those who ruled over the island have control over the wine industry. Winemakers in the island had faced hard times over centuries of ruler changes from the Lusignans to the Venetians and to the Turks.

Cyprus Wine during the Lusignan Rule

During the time of the Lusignans, Cyprus had close connections with Crusader nations, especially France. It was during the 12th century when the sweet Cyprus wine was renamed to Commandaria. The name came from Gran Commanderie, which is an area found in the west of Limassol and where the headquarters of the Knights Templars was previously located. The wine was the main source of wealth for the knights.

Richard the Lionheart was said to be one of the fans of Cyprus wine after tasting it during their stay in the Commandaria regions. It was said that the first Commadaria wine was made in the Kolossi Castle that was owned by the Knights Templars. And from there, the production of the dessert wine has spread all over the island nation.

It was during this era when the Commandaria wine was awarded as the best in the Battle of the Wines, which was the first recorded competition for wine tasting. The contest was also known as The Battle of the Blends.

The Battle of the Wines was organised by King Philip Augustus of France and was immortalised by the 1224 poem made by Henry d’Andeli. Aside from Cyprus wine, wine samples from France, Spain, and other parts of Europe were tasted by an English priest. The wines were rated as Celebrated or Excommunicated. The Commandaria from Cyprus was judged as the overall winner.

Old Commandaria Label

Cyprus Wine History during the Ottoman Occupation

Wine production during the Ottoman occupation was reduced. This was caused by high taxes on Cyprus wine and the Islamic tradition. During that time, winemakers will hide the amount of vintage they have in their storage. Grape growers would bury a portion of their produce to hit the actual amount of their harvest.

Cyprus Wine under British Rule

It was only after Cyprus became under British rule that the wine industry started to grow again. The British Empire changed the tax laws regarding wines, and local winemakers started to expand their operations. It was during that time when the foundation of ETKO was built. At present, it is one of the biggest wineries in the country.

It was thanks to the British Empire that people know get to enjoy wines from the top winemakers in Cyprus. After Medieval to the 19th Century, the next part of the Cyprus wine history series will tackle the Modern Era of the wine industry in the island nation.

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Modern History of Cyprus Wine

19th Century to Modern History of Cyprus Wine

The modern Cyprus wine has a very long history that will take you back to the ancient times before the Roman Empire has ever stepped foot on the island nation. The country has been sold many time and re-given to countless rulers that had led to hard times for the winemakers. 

[This is a 3 part series - to read part 1 about the Ancient History of Cyprus Wine, click here or to read part 2 about Medieval Cyprus wine, click here].

While people point to the British Empire as the starting point of the modern growth of Cyprus wine, they were not in a hurry to invest in the wine industry. The good thing that happened during the British rule is the founding of ETKO, which is one of the major winemaking companies today.

The Phylloxera Epidemic 

Mainland Europe was inflicted with the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th Century that destroyed most of the wine producing wines. Fortunately, Cyprus had strict quarantine regulations in place leaving it unaffected by the epidemic. As a result of the wine shortage in Europe, the prices of Cyprus wine increased and resulted to a mini boom for the winemaking industry. And even after the epidemic, Cyprus produced quality wines that are cheap that led to more demand from the locals, Britain, France, and the Middle East.

Golden Age of Cyprus Wine

The golden age of Cyprus wine took place 20 years into the 20th century, right after World War I. The British Empire controlled most of the Middle East, and Cyprus wine was exported to all the neighbouring countries that include Syria, Palestine, Sudan, Egypt, and Lebanon.

It was also during that time when the current largest Cyprus wine company KEO was born. The company is popular for its local sherry that’s exported to overseas markets. It was founded by a group of local businessmen and the company purchased the Chaplin winery in 1928.


In 1943, trade union members from ETKO started a cooperative that they named LOEL. The winery was the first public company in Cyprus that has thousands of shareholders, most of whom are winegrowers. At present, the winery can process around 25 million kilos of grapes each year.

In 1947, winegrowers started SODAP, a cooperative that aims to protect the rights of all growers in Cyprus. At that time, it was composed of around 10,000 families from 144 vine growing villages in the island. The cooperative played a vital role in the stabilisation of the Cyprus wine industry.

Ktima Gerolemo Winery

The Rise of Cyprus Sherry

The Cyprus Sherry was first introduced in the market in 1937, and its major market was northern Europe. By the time of the 1960s, Britain was consuming half of the production of Cyprus wine, majority of which is sweet sherry. Cyprus Sherry was more affordable than Spanish Sherry because the latter was taxed more. However, the advantage was erased when British tax laws were changed.

At present, the Cyprus wine industry has implemented reforms to help improve the quality of wine instead of increasing the volume of wines produced by the wineries in the island. New varieties of grapes were introduced to the growers, and the government provided incentives for their cultivations. Hopefully, this will start another golden age in Cyprus wine history.

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