Opening the Pithari

Opening the Pithari

in Koilani

We basked in the November Cyprus sun, nibbling away at our Souvlaki and sipping our red Cyprus wine. Koilani is located 820m above sea-level on the way to Troodos and I had anticipated a certain autumn chill. I had brought in the car with me two fleeces and a jacket. These were quite unnecessary and I felt supremely comfortable in my T-shirt. We had the ideal temperature for sitting and eating outside.

The Greek band played and sang to us songs originating from different towns in Cyprus. A steady flow of people arrived from different parts of the country. The tables filled. “The” Pithari stood expectantly in front of the musicians. On the flat stone that covered the opening lay the hard skin of a gourd into which had been cut a rectangular hole, turning it into a ladle. People came up to it and placed their wine glass next to it and took photographs. A lone dancer got up and danced to the accompaniment of clapping from the assembled visitors. An English-speaking couple sipped their wine contentedly under the shade of an olive tree.

When we came in I had asked about the wine glasses that were decked out on the table at the entrance. “They cost two euros each,” we were told. “They are for your free glass of wine that you can have later. Next to the souvlaki stand was a stainless steel wine vat from which 375 cl bottles of wine were being filled. I proffered my wine glass. The stall holder filled it then gave me the bottle. “For you,” he said. This was indeed a very good value glass of wine, especially as I later noticed that people were going for refills as often as they liked.

There were lots of nice delicacies on offer. At one stand we had been invited to try the “loukoumades”. Delicious! They were also selling there “koilaniotika glyka” (glytzistika) in Cypriot dialect. These are sweet pastries that are only made in Koilani. At another stand they were making palouzes, a Cypriot delicacy that I mention in my article on 10 Gastronomic Specialities of Cyprus.

The time was approaching for the opening of the Pithari. Pretty young ladies in Local Costume sat at a table by the Pithari. A man was about to pass our table. I stopped him and asked what they called the type of song being sung where one singer sings a response to the other. He paused and chatted briefly before continuing his way to the band. It turns out that he was the President of the Village Council. He took the microphone and welcomed us and explained to us how in days of old, before we had stainless steel vats, after the harvest, people would keep their grape juice closed in Pitharies such as these to ferment. In November they would invite their friends and relations round to celebrate the opening of the Pithari and taste the wine. Here in Koilani today they were reviving that tradition with a special festival for the opening of the Pithari. I remember how on one of the day excursions of Wines and Tours the owner of the Ayia Mavri winery down the road told us that his grandparents used to have 100 pitharies for fermenting their wine. Ayia Mavri is, incidentally, one of the wineries that I mention in my article on the Best Wines of Cyprus.

But I digress. A couple more short speeches and the Pithari was ceremoniously blessed using an incense burner called a "kapnistiri", perhaps evoking ceremonies of ancient Greeks. The time had come. The heavy stone lid was removed from the Pithari. The crowd was invited to come and try the wine and glasses were filled with the gourd ladel.

The musicians played on and the girls in local costumes got up and danced and gradually members of the assembly  joined in.

The wine we had with our Souvlaki was really very good. It was from Vlassides another winery in the vicinity which, incidentally, I also mention in my article on the Best Wines of Cyprus .

As we were leaving I went to see if we could buy a couple of bottles. “We don’t have any for sale,” said the young lady at the stall, “But we’ll gladly give you a couple of refills of your bottles.” We went away happy! 

Opening the Pithari

Koilani is one of the places that Wines and Tours sometimes visit on their day-excursions