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Student Stories: An Intentional Mistake

The main brick building of the Ayia Mavri Winery sits atop a hill in the Kilani Village of Lemesos, directly in the heart of Cyprus’ wine country, Krasochoria. Tucked away from the main road, the homey feel of the building does not surprise me as I walk inside. I am immediately in a small kitchen with two aprons hanging on the wall. A cat brushes at my feet as a small, stout woman with modest clothing and kind eyes emerges from the other room.

Student and author Kristin atop a hill in the Kilani Village of Lemesos.

“Welcome to my home,” she says enthusiastically. I decide immediately that I like the woman standing before me, despite knowing absolutely nothing about her.

She turns to lead us downstairs, urging us to follow with a small wave of the hand. My small group of six means that the tour we are about to experience will be intimate, and will also allow us to get to know the woman before us much better than we would be able to if there were more of us. As we walk down the stairs into the dark, we learn our guide’s name is Maia and that she is the co-owner of the winery. We walk through what seem like an endless supply of aging wine bottles in a dimly lit room with crisp air that reminds me strongly of Autumn in Boulder, Colorado, where I attend college. She points out various award-winning bottles before sitting us down at a small square table to begin our tasting.

As she begins to pour the first wine she tells us the story of her winery. Having grown up in a wine making family herself and then marrying into another, Maia’s entire life has revolved around the wine business and perfecting the best Cypriot wine. She leaps into a story about a wine she refers to as their signature as she pours it into each of our glasses. “Mosxatos was created entirely as a mistake,” she starts. She continues to explain that her family made a trip to Greece some 20 years ago for the christening of her grandson and, upon their return, discovered that the grapes they planted before their departure were far too ripe to make a dry wine as they planned; rather than throwing out potentially hundreds of dollars worth of grapes, thousands if you count the $1,200 oak barrels imported from France used to age wine that could only be used roughly three times before being discarded, Maia and her husband decided to see if they could make a sweet dessert wine from them instead. This decision turned out to be one of the most important of their lives.

The wine they created from these overripe grapes, she explains, won awards all over the world, and placed first in an international sweet wine competition multiple years in a row. The proof of their success story looms behind us near a small staircase leading to the main room in which we started. The staircase is lined with copies of the awards she told us about, and their corresponding photos, many with various Cypriot presidents. “Now we make the same mistake every year,” Maia remarks playfully.

A winery in Cyprus’ wine country

Later that day, walking into another winery on the opposite side of Cyprus’ wine country, I was reminded of Maia’s mistake as I heard her remarks echoed in those of the son of Linos Winery’s owners, Alec. Alec wears a dark turtleneck, a cheek-to-cheek friendly smile, and an unmistakeable black eye that betrays his after-work activities. He speaks even less English than Maia and relies heavily on our tour guide Helena, a short wrinkled woman whose smile is infectious, to translate his words from his native Greek. Pouring wine after wine into our glasses, Alec spoke little and smiled often. When he reaches their signature Cypriot blue wine, however, he eagerly explains to Helena the story of its creation.

The machine used to press the grapes and extract their flavor had accidentally not been cleaned in between the processes of making a red wine and a white one, the result of a forgetful new employee. The mixture of chemicals used in the process, alongside the combining wines created their signature blue hue. After seven years of experimentation to achieve the desired blue, Aegean Sea blue, Alec continues, the winery finally produced a blue wine of the correct color.

Cyprus was the first place in the world to create this blue wine, and there are only six places in the world today that can replicate this process. Alec explains to us that, “the blue wine was the best accident we have ever made.”

We leave Linos Winery in the cover of darkness, the six of us piling into the minivan with fuzzy thoughts from the heavy handed pours of each individual we encountered throughout the day. Helena, our appointed designated driver and tour guide, makes small talk about the places we had been and people we met throughout the day as we begin our drive. Her ability to speak to people and tell stories is incredible, and she seemed to leave a trail of laughter and new friends everywhere we went. It was because of this that I am unsurprised when she tells us that she spent her life traveling around the world as a hostess for various clients, a job that took her to 80 countries so far.

Helena starts to explain that her love of travel began when she was 16. Her father forgot to book airplane tickets to go visit their family on the coast of France and, by the time he had realized his mistake, it was far too expensive to fly; instead, the family piled into their compact car and made a family road trip out of the error. Throughout their road trip, Helena continues, she discovered her love of travel. Once they returned home to Cyprus she decided to go to university to learn English and, after doing so, became a travel hostess, remaining one for almost 40 years. “My father’s mistake,” Helena explains, “made me realize I wanted to see more of the world than Cyprus.”

Travel writing has been an important part of Helena’s journey.

Now, after spending her career traveling, Helena dreams of writing a novel focused on her stories and the people she encountered along the way. One of the people she says was especially important in her journey is a journalist Helena met through the work she is doing now, taking people on tours of Cyprus’ most unique wineries. Though she always wanted to write a novel on her experiences as a travel hostess, Helena says that she did not think it was possible for her to do so as someone who is not a native English speaker until she encountered a journalist who told her: “Just tell your story as you experienced it, let the editors be the ones to worry about perfecting the grammar.”

I think about the people I met throughout the day: Maia, whose grandchild’s christening allowed some grapes to overripe; Alec, whose family’s success rested on the mistake of a new employee; and Helena, whose entire 40-year career bloomed from the forgetfulness of her father. I think about the unique lives of each individual I encountered, and yet, how their stories all echoed throughout one another’s. Perhaps, I think as our minivan approaches the “Port Arrivals” sign, Cyprus is a place plagued with happy little accidents.

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