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The KEO Factory in Cyrpus
The KEO Factory in Cyrpus:
Everything you wanted to know about the island’s beverages
1468
Translation: Jordan Worsley
Photo: Ekaterina Astahova
27.03.2019

The food and drinks of Cyprus make for an endlessly vast and absorbing topic of conversation. This is no surprise, for Cyprus has been what’s referred to as “at the heart of the action” for millennia, diversifying its culinary traditions with the best dishes from various cultures. The island has been well known for its wine production since ancient times. According to one of the Cypriot legends, Dionysus, the patron god of winemaking, actually lived here.

Nowadays there are many wineries present on the island: whichever region you are planning to visit on your trip, you will most likely come across a small wine-manufacturing facility.

Wine production in Cyprus is nigh on a tradition for the island’s local population. Almost 1 in every 3 families is linked either directly or indirectly to this process. You can encounter private wineries both in the Troodos mountains and the village of Omodos, as well as the suburbs of Paphos or Limassol. Tours and excursions around the local wineries are available from the island’s tourist agencies. However, regardless of the abundance of private winemakers, this market has a large and successful player — the KEO factory.

A Little about the KEO Company

The company KEO ltd. (греч. Κυπριακή Εταιρία Οίνων), translated from the Greek meaning “Cypriot wine company”, was founded in the year 1927. It all began with a few grape bushes which grew into a small winery. Over time, the KEO grape plantations spread, consequently raising the volume of wine production. A little more than 20 years later, in 1951, beer-brewing specialists were invited to the island from Czechoslovakia. At that point, the company began to produce beer, the recipe for which gradually improved and led to the creation of its own flavour, which now bears the same name. Over the years the brewery has driven up its production turnover, and its volumes now reach 30,000 hectolitres per month.

In the present day, KEO is a large-scale company, which produces alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks (bottled water, juices, beer, liquor, traditional vodka — Zivania, cognac and others), as well as preserved foods. The company provides a large number of employment positions on the island, with its products being exported to more than 30 countries in the world.

The KEO factory, in particular, is responsible for the popularisation and production of the earliest brand of dessert wine, a drink which has high authority amongst both connoisseurs and professional sommeliers. The drink — Commandaria — has been manufactured in Cyprus for more than 8 centuries. Its recipe was invented long ago and has since been passed from generation to generation. The story of its origin is rooted deep in the times of the crusades when far back in 1210, this wine went by the name of Nama. It was only later that it acquired its contemporary, genuine name. Nama was regarded as the “Apostle of all wines” and included in the category of elite drinks.

It’s worth mentioning that Commandaria is KEO’s most famous wine in Russia, where it is in fact used in the sacrament of communion in Orthodox churches. The factory also produces “Five Kings” brandy, a name invented in memory of a medieval feast, where five rulers were present, including the king of Cyprus. KEO has repeatedly been the leading brewery in Cyprus. In the present day, the company’s brand has world recognition, with its shares being tendered on the Cypriot stock exchange. As Cyprus has now joined the European Union, the company plans to expand its production to European countries. The factory constantly participates in international competitions and exhibitions, where it is celebrated with medals and awards. It is one of the largest representatives at the Limassol Wine Festival, which takes place every year in the city’s main park.

Visiting the Factory

We had a planned meeting at the factory with Mr Yannis Boyas, who has been working as the manager at KEO for more than 18 years, a position once held by his parents and eldest brother. With a broad and cheerful smile, Yannis invites us to follow him on a mini-excursion around the company premises. The factory has expanded so much, he explains, that now there is far more office and storage space. The precious, most expensive drinks are stored on the lower floors of the main buildings, where all necessary rules and fundamental storage principles are observed. In order to get a clearer picture of wine production, we decide to learn a little about the process of its creation.

KEO factory and winery, Cyprus

The Process of Wine Production:

Technology

The first step in the process of winemaking is picking the grapes, beginning from the moment they are fully ripe. Ripening periods vary depending on the type of grape. The taste of the future drink depends on the quality of the gathered product, as well as the country and region where the grapes ripen. The grapes may be collected by mechanical means or by hand. Hand picked grapes are used for creating elite category wines. This allows for the rigorous selection of the very best grapes only, while not harming the grape bushes. Mechanically gathered grapes are used for manufacturing cheaper wines.

Processing

Processing the grapes after they are gathered allows them to be properly prepared for subsequent treatment. This involves the following stages: washing the grapes, combing and the final stage — steam processing or crushing. The final stage helps to extract the juice from the grapes more quickly. Steam processing mainly takes place in the manufacture of white wine to eliminate any harmful microorganisms and prevent the wine from oxidising. In the production of red wine, a technique of heating crushed grapes is employed, a process which also accelerates the transfer of flavours from the skin to the juice, which in turn increases the flavour quality of the end product. The grapes are crushed mechanically with the aid of special equipment. Before such an apparatus is used, the grapes are stepped on or pressed by hand. You can watch this fascinating process and even take part in it at the Limassol wine festival.

Preparing the “Must”

Pressing the grapes and yielding the must — the freshly crushed juice mixed with skin and seeds — is also an important stage in the process of wine production. There are three different kinds: the first — self-flowing must; the second and third are determine based on the extent to which the grapes are pressed. At the first stage, the grapes go through a special press, which results in the juice being extracted. The yield then undergoes further pressing.

The Fermentation Process

After obtaining the grape must, the next stage begins — the fermentation process. Natural yeasts are contained within the grapes which react with the sugar and launch the fermentation process. Specially cultured wine yeasts are also added to the mixture. Around 70% of the fermentation process occurs in the first 5 days. The liquid-filled tank must be left open at this time, as a large quantity of carbon dioxide forms during the fermentation process. After active fermentation, the process of passive fermentation begins, which can last 2-3 weeks depending on the sugar content of the wine. In contrast to the material used for making dry wines, a must with a high sugar content ferments more quickly and actively. Any air contact with the wine is limited during this period to avoid lowering the quality of the future drink. In the process of fermentation, sediment occurs, which is subsequently removed. Special chemical substances, such as bentonite, are used to accelerate the process of clarifying the beverage. As a result of the fermentation process, a spirit is formed, which gives the drink its alcohol content.

Factoring in Temperature 

One of the main factors, being of no small importance and having a substantial influence on the fermentation of the wine, is the temperature of the cellar. The best quality wine is produced in a cellar with temperature conditions of 15-20°C. During fermentation, it is essential that the temperature of the must and the sizes of the barrels are in direct correlation with one another. Small barrels require a higher ambient temperature. The cellar should be heated to 20°C. Large deviations from these temperature conditions must be avoided: too low a cellar temperature (9-10°C) will delay the fermentation process, while too high a temperature (25-30°C) — may spoil the base wine.

Preserving the Wine

Wine preservation is a necessary stage of large-scale production, which ensures that the drink has a long shelf life. This process can be executed with the use of various technologies. Factories often use the technique of heating the yield to a temperature from 60-90°C and then cooling it to its initial temperature, a process known as pasteurisation. At this stage, an important factor in the process of heating the product is that air contact must be limited, otherwise, the wine may be spoiled. Through this storage type, both the drink’s flavour and quality characteristics are preserved, in addition to harmful bacteria and microorganisms being destroyed.

A Little about the Storage Process

In order for the wine to be stored in an appropriate manner, it must be produced at a temperature from 0 to 3°C. In addition to the product clarifying faster in such conditions, storing eliminates any risk of the beverage deteriorating. Examples of natural preservatives are sugar, ethyl spirit (used for strengthening the wine’s alcohol content) and extracts of the fruit and leaves of the walnut-tree. However, manufacturers are not always able to use natural preservatives, as they aren’t suited to some types of wine. In this case, chemical agents are applied, such as for instance, sulphurous acid, salicylic acid and acetic acid.

It is worth noting that without the presence of vessels to both prepare and store the obtained product, the process of producing wine is impossible. Wooden barrels are a classic method for storing wine and are, as a rule, manufactured from oak. Firstly, it is a natural material, and secondly, a wine which is aged in oak vessels acquires an inimitable bouquet, highly valued all around the world. If properly maintained and operated, oak barrels will serve for a period of roughly 30-50 years. In addition to acquiring its flavour, the maturation of the wine occurs particularly in this period, when it is stored in barrels.

One of the earliest types of vessels used for product storage were clay jugs, which are still used everywhere to this day. In order to maintain the necessary temperature, these containers were buried into the ground, so that only the jug neck remained on the surface. Nowadays, metal, plastic and titanium vessels have widespread use. Their necessity can, by and large, be explained by the increase which they contribute to a product’s shelf life, as well as their high aseptic properties.

Shrinkage

Wine, like any liquid when stored, is subject to the constant process of evaporation or shrinkage. The process of evaporation is influenced by a multitude of physical factors: the room temperature and humidity levels, the size and age of the barrels, as well as the thickness and porousness of the riveting. The higher the cellar’s air temperature and the lower the humidity level, the more wine will evaporate. The denser the oak timber from which the wine barrels are ordinarily made, and the thicker the riveting, the less significant the shrinkage. On the contrary, the wine will evaporate faster if stored in new, thin or porous barrels. This is because the timber in new barrels has still not been fully soaked in the wine and the pores of the riveting have yet to be filled with scale. The size of the barrels also has an influence on the amount of product evaporation. The smaller the barrel, the greater the evaporation surface comparative to the wine contained inside, and the greater the loss of wine. The age and consistency of the wine also play a large role in the amount of evaporation. The average loss of wine through evaporation accounts for close to 5% per annum. This evaporated part is referred to as the “the angel’s share”.

In addition, oxygen has an ambiguous influence on wine: on one hand, the air which seeps into the wine through the wood’s pores contributes to increasing its flavour, while on the other hand, if the air enters the barrel from above, through the bung hole, the wine may be spoiled. The impact of oxygen on the wine leads to the oxidisation of proteins and extractive dyes which precipitate to the bottom of the barrel. As a result of tannin substances reacting, light coloured wines may darken.

Replenishment

In order for the wine not to spoil, the barrels must be filled to the brim, with the bung hole tightly sealed and the lower end touching the surface of the wine. For this reason, winemakers are forced to periodically replenish the barrels with more wine, a process which is regularly conducted. The time intervals over which this occurs are dependent on the sort of wine, as well as its storage conditions. If the wine is stored in dry air cellars, the barrels may require topping up more often than wine stored in humid environments. The barrels need to be replenished with a wine of identical sort and quality, which in addition, should be desirably from a grape grown in one specific region. You must not add to a barrel of matured wine with youthful wine. Young wines demand topping up more often than old ones, as during light fermentation, which begins after the heavy stage, the liquid’s temperature falls, while the effect of the carbon dioxide, which continues to separate, while transforming the spirit into water, decreases the volume of wine. Barrels with young wine need to be replenished every 3-4 days for the first month, after which they can be added to less often, while those holding elite quality wines also ought to be topped up more often than ones containing cheaper sorts. Barrels of matured wine are usually turned with the bung hole facing to the side, which practically eliminates the need for replenishment or allows it to be done more rarely.

Blending

Blending, known in French as “coupage”, is the proportionate mixing of different types and sorts of wine to improve their quality, as well as to create new varieties. In the blending process, various base wines may be combined, as well as must, ethyl spirit and concentrated wine juice. It initially takes place in factory laboratories, in small glass vessels which are then left for several days. Afterwards, once the proportions have been determined, blending occurs in special reservoirs located directly on the factory floor. This is a very complex and crucial moment in the process, therefore a good knowledge of wine varieties, as well as their physical and chemical properties and the regions of their production, is required from the winemaker.

It is also worth mentioning the process of filtration, a way to cleanse the wine of organic substances, which protects it from spoiling. White wine most often undergoes filtration. The alcoholic content of the wine doesn’t change, but youthful red wines may become lighter due to part of the dyes remaining in the filter.

Storage and Ageing

When the wine is completely ready, which usually occurs after 2-3 years of storage in cellars, the winemakers begin pouring it into bottles. Immediately after pouring, a cork is dipped into some spirit or cognac with the end which goes into the bottleneck. Thanks to this secret, the cork, which is fitted with the aid of a special machine, slots more easily into the bottleneck. The neck is then wax-sealed from the outside to ensure further storage of the wine and the bottles are placed on their sides so the cork sits in the liquid. Once in bottles, not only is wine no longer impacted by air, which helps it to remain in a stable condition, it only continues to improve, acquiring maturity and flavour. White wines become darker in light, but this has no effect on their quality. Red wines may acquire a more bricky shade. Bottled wines are stored horizontally in a cool, dry place.

In order to ensure that the wines are stored in an appropriate manner, they are put in special wine cellars. These storing cellars must be dry and located far away from any mould and damp. The condition of the cellar influences the flavour and aroma of the wines — even those which are tightly bottled. Storage of the wine must be organised in such a way that the wine isn’t subject to any vibrations from the external environment, while the location itself must have a uniform temperature throughout the year.

Before tasting a matured wine, the bottle is carefully removed from the cellar, after which it is then left to stand until it reaches room temperature. The bottle is uncorked with a corkscrew, without any sharp jolts. The wine may then be poured into a carafe, however, it cannot be left there for long, as mature wine quickly loses its flavour in the open air.

A Little about Wines

Every wine manufacturer has its own trade secrets and uses individual techniques in preparing different types of drink.

For instance, in the production of white wine, the collected grapes are put through a crushing stage. The must is then obtained from vessels, after which the process of fermentation occurs, at a temperature of 18-20°C. Next, the wine is ready for decanting in order to filter the sediment. White table wine, as a rule, has a low alcohol content and a pleasant aroma, as well as containing a low percentage of sugar.

Red table wine is produced from varieties of dark grapes, with fermentation occurring at a temperature of 26-30°C. The obtained must is remixed several times every 24 hours to saturate it with oxygen, after which it acquires a particular taste and aroma. Red wines have a deeper aroma and a long-lasting aftertaste, which comes from the skins and seeds of dark grapes.

Rose wines also have their own peculiarities with regards to how they are made. To obtain the desired shade, the must from the ready-made base wine ages in a pulp of red grapes for a period of 18-20 hours.

Fortified wines are obtained by adding ethyl spirit to the must. These wines are characterised not only by their increased alcohol content but also by their sweetness. The production of dessert wines with high sugar content is carried out by using sweet grape varieties. In the production of some wine varieties, the grapes are dried out until they have shrivelled, with the option of adding sugar or spirits to the must. Fermentation is carried out in a classic manner, after which the wine is repoured into storage vessels. For the creation of high calibre vintage wines, the wine is left for more than 5 years in a special wine cellar, at a constant temperature of 10-12°C.

But Let’s Return to KEO

In the present day, 70% of the company’s main output is specifically from the factory here in Cyprus, where both wine and beer are bottled. The KEO headquarters are also located on the island. In telling us about the factory’s size, the huge industrial vessels with their grand and large-scale appearance rather much speak for themselves. Close to 3,000 people now work here, which testifies to the high calibre of work in the company. After a mini excursion around the factory, Yannis suggests we visit the pride of the company — the Ktima Mallia winery — where KEO’s main wines are produced.

With great pleasure, I agree and we continue onwards.

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The village of Ktima is located in the suburbs of Limassol, only 9-10 kilometres from the village of Omodos. It is easy to find via the search engines 2Gis and Google.

We are met here with smiles and kindhearted embraces.

It’s worth noting that the hospitality displayed by Cypriots is never fake and so genuine, that even upon introduction with a local, the feeling is always present that you have already known them for many years. Mr Timos, the factory’s main agronomist, invites us to go for a stroll around the winery and feast our eyes on its surroundings. The welcome weather and the warm spring sun is the perfect complement to our pleasant stroll. This is a truly beautiful, picturesque area. The vineyards are scattered across the entire territory of the factory. The pleasant, fragrant aroma of the grapes wisps through the air, while the bright greenery around us is a sight to behold. The winery owns vineyards with an area covering more than 5 hectares. Situated in such a heavenly environment, it is simply the perfect creation and a model of winemaking art. Developed according to the specifications of experienced winemakers, every vineyard bush looks as though it has been painted on a wildlife backdrop.

We pass into the building. The factory is a restored two-floor building, which includes modern winemaking facilities. The underground cellar used for ageing the bottles and barrels, as well as the tasting and reception hall, are located on this level. Natural agricultural methods for harvesting the grapes and producing the wine are used here. In the vineyards, the quality characteristics of the processed grape varieties are constantly under rigorous development. The production here, like with all good wines, has matured over many years. The Ktima Mallia factory is famous for producing unique wines from secret recipes over centuries old.

It is a well-established factory with long-standing traditions, enthusiasm and a love for wine. A team of professionals work here, who are constantly striving to acquire new knowledge and develop their skills to perfection. The grape here is picked by hand and immediately processed using the most advanced technology. To begin with, a low-pressure press is used, then the grapes are exposed to soft pressure and a cold cleansing. Afterwards, mixing is performed at a controlled temperature. The high altitude above sea level and the carbonated soils, combined with the dry summer and abundance of sunlight, all produce the ideal conditions for manufacturing a high-quality product with a brightly pronounced aroma and its own unusual taste. The winery’s underground cellar is capable of housing 200 oak barrels, in which the wine ages and develops its character.

After the wine has aged, the factory’s head agronomist explains, it is transported to the main factory in Limassol, where it is poured into bottles, licensed and prepared to be sold.

Mister Timos has worked as the head agronomist here for over 20 years, admitting that he’s loved the job since his very first day in the factory — and this love is mutual. As he smiles at us modestly, he says — “When you take part in a process from the very first stage all the way to its result, be that in the form of the products you obtain, the reviews you receive or getting prize places in festivals, you understand that the cost of success is love and devotion to your work”.

Ktima winery was founded more than 50 years ago, and over the years the vineyards have grown, the lands have expanded and new wine varieties have come into existence. After passing several stages of development, the winery, you might say, made itself. Thanks to a team of professionals and employees devoted to their work, this place, now an integral part of the company’s large-scale production, looks so cosy. The wines created here are recognised all over the world. In the present day, the area covered by the vineyards here exceeds 500 hectares. There is even a long-standing history, Timos tell us while smiling, that this place, in particular, was the ancestor of one particular variety of French Caberne. He says that when the winery first opened it allegedly created one of the rare types of grape now used in the production of the famous Caberne Sauvignon in France. This place is beautiful, intimate and picturesque. After harvesting, when the production season begins to decline, it is possible to come here on an excursion, to get acquainted with the factory and try some delicious wines. The winery’s hospitable team are always glad to have guests. A walk here will lift your spirits and definitely leave a happy trace in your memories of travelling on the island. The taste of KEO’s drinks will remain in your memory as the taste of Cyprus.

I highly recommend you visit it!

Address: KEO Headquarters Limassol, 1 Franklin Roosevelt Avenue, 3012

P.O. Box 50209, 3602 Limassol,Cyprus

Tel: +357 25 020000

Fax: +357 25 020001

Official site: www.keogroup.com

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