The Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, also known as the Frequency Illusion, is a cognitive bias which describes a tendency to keep seeing things, names or ideas, very soon after we have first met them. It was coined in 1994 by a commenter on the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ online discussion board.
Having just heard about the Baader-Meinhoff German terrorist group, he started to see Baader-Meinhoff everywhere. The experience is caused by two psychological processes. The first, selective attention, kicks in when you’re struck by something new; after that, you subconsciously keep an eye out for it, and as a result find it surprisingly often. The second process, confirmation bias, reassures you that each sighting is further proof that the thing has gained omnipresence.
And right now, standing in the vineyards of the Kyperounda winery in the heart of Cyprus, I am experiencing it.
It’s not so much a name or an idea. Rather, it is a year.
My only connection to Cyprus goes back to that year. I had a photograph. It was of my newly-married aunty Eileen and her husband, Dougie. He was in the RAF and had been posted to Cyprus. They had left home for the island only a few weeks before. The photograph shows them at dinner at a restaurant. On the back my aunty had scribbled a few sentences about how much she was loving Cyprus, but how much she was missing home. I think it made me cry a little. But what beguiled me was that they were eating outdoors. To an eight year-old growing up in Jarrow this was as exotic and as continental as it could possibly be. My aunty had joined the jet set and turned into Brigitte Bardot overnight. Furthermore, I was fascinated by the remains of the meal on their plates. What was this? It didn’t look like the kind of meat and potato dinners we ate at home. No, it looked … glamorous. (I now think it was langoustines). When the height of sophistication was two weeks in a concrete outrage on the Costa Brava, and when something weird called a croissant was making its first appearance in the relatively new phenomena of supermarkets, here was my aunty eating exotic food on a sun-kissed island in something called The Med. I took the photograph into school to impress. Left it lying around. “My aunty,” I would say to any kid who asked. No other comment was necessary, my eight-year-old mind felt.
The memory of that 1969 photograph is triggered by our host, Kyperounda winemaker Minas Mina, pointing to the top of Mount Troodos. “Over there is where the British barracks are,” he said. We pause only briefly (and I have my flashback), before Minas leads the charge back into the vineyards.
The thing about Kyperounda is that it has the highest vineyards in Europe at 1,400 metres; only Argentina has higher-sited vineyards in our portfolio, and I am so grateful for the cool of the altitude, as the sun is blazing. We are scrambling up and down hillsides thick with thorny vegetation, in which vines appear to be randomly mixed in with other green plants. “We use cover crops in the vineyard to encourage biomass and to keep things as natural as possible,” says Minas. We come across a vine so big it is almost a tree. I’ve never seen anything even resembling this before, and I christen it Hemingway’s Vine.
This is wild and earthy agriculture. There is little delineation between vineyard properties. Crops seem to merge into each other. I look through the binoculars to what look like peculiar lemon dots a few hundred yards away. Through the glasses I realise these are the bright yellow baskets into which Vietnamese grape-pickers, barely visible amidst the vegetation, are gathering the vintage. Definitely no machine harvesting in this vineyard.
Minas points to a slightly more uniform vineyard. The EPOS Chardonnay we had at dinner last night came from this vineyard, but sadly they lost the entire production this year because of hailstones. I marvel at the expense of working in such conditions. We climb back into the four wheel drive and as Minas drives back to the winery, he points to various plots of land and explains that he spends most of his winters scouring the land for vineyards he can purchase, but getting local farmers to sell is a very difficult job, even when they are not getting much money for their cops.
Sitting in the back seat, I hang on as Minas throws the vehicle around steep bends. My rucksack falls open and a paperback, which I bought to read on the plane, falls out. First Man is the biography of Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on to the moon.
It is one of my first television memories. Shadowy, grainy, black and white pictures, radio static, repetitive bleeping of the transmitter; hypnotic. And even the eight year old could recognise the import of the eternally famous words: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was only much later that I realised that, famously, that is not what Armstrong said. He forgot to use the indefinite article; “a man…” became “man…” which is grammatically incoherent. At least that’s what I’d always thought. But the book is not clear on this. In it, Armstrong seems to be saying he might have said it: “Perhaps it was a suppressed sound that didn’t get picked up by the voice mike.”
I put the book back into my rucksack as we arrive back at the winery. Minas gives us a quick tour. Stylish and modern, the winery is built on three levels in order to take advantage of gravity to move the grape juice in the gentlest possible way. Kyperounda grows the usual western varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, but Steve and I are more interested in the native grapes. We are here to have a vertical tasting of the wonderful white wine we import, Petritis, made from Xynisteri, and to put together two single varietal wines using Maratheftiko and Lefkada, two red grapes which are almost always blended.
In the tank room we taste a few Xynesteris. One is absolutely fabulous and its zinging acidity leaps out of the glass. Minas tells us it will obtain its complexity only after sitting for six months on the lees. With a glint in his eye, he then gives us some light coloured juice and are asked what it is. Steve and I both wonder about fermenting Chardonnay, and are put out when we realise it is Lefkada which is being made into rose.
Upstairs, we get started on the Petritis, a wine which works really well for us. A 2018 is a little closed, but with attractive stone fruit, a touch of beeswax, lovely mouthfeel; a 2017 is quite exotic – honey and banana, a touch of oxidation – but quite attractive, adding to the character; a 2015 is sadly oxidised; a 2014 is very good: again, a touch of semi oxidative character, reminding me of some Adriatic whites; a 2010 is well developed and showing a bit of age, but has masses of character – again I get a beeswax and honey aroma and quite sweet finish. It reminds me of an aged Grüner Veltliner; finally, a 2007 is the colour of Sauternes: toffee, rich and honeyed in the mouth, marzipan and fruitcake. Amazing!
As Minas sets up the red blending sessions, I wander out to the terrace and take in the spectacular view. You can see all the way down to the fleshpots of Limassol, some 25 miles away.
The other book I read on the plane on the way over to Larnaka was Ian Penman’s It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track. On 26th September 1969 the Beatles released Abbey Road. Reading Penman’s wonderful book, I came across his thoughts on Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight. I had to put the book down and run the song through my mind. It is the delicious climax of the epic second side, and what always gets me is the change from A-minor to D-minor on Sleep pretty darling, do not cry… McCartney pitches it perfectly and whenever I hear it, wherever I hear it, I have to stop and pause. Imagine being able to create something so beautiful.
Minas signals for me to come back inside. Steve is rubbing his hands as we begin our tasting.
First up, a selection of Maratheftiko vintages:
A 2018 is fresh, vibrant, fruit pastille, lightish; a 2017 is oaky and just a touch volatile; a second 2017 is a little bretty and definitely not as stylish as the first two; another 2007 is a completely different animal – a big brute, quite tannic, huge finish. We think for a while. What does this need? Then we try a 2018 Syrah. Yes, this might do the trick, with its immediate white pepper appeal.
The first blend Steve puts together comprises 90% of the first and fourth Maratheftiko samples and 10% of the Syrah. Doesn’t work: the Syrah is too dominant. For the second blend he removes 5% of the Syrah. It tastes like a good wine but after a while we conclude that it is losing its character. Steve tries a third blend, this time with 80% Maratheftiko and 20% of Syrah. Mistake. It has lost all of its character. We scratch our heads for a while, and then Steve remembers that he has tried a Cabernet Sauvignon on previous visits. Luckily, Minas has quite a lot of back vintages, so we happily work our way through a vertical tasting. A 2004 has a slightly “sour” nose and is too aggressive; a 2005 is fresher and fruitier, well balanced with a lovely fruity finish; a 2007 is very different to the others – very fresh and very herby with a high phenolic content. So we take 85% of the Maratheftiko blend, 10% of the Syrah and add 5% of the 2005 Cabernet. Bingo! This retains the vivacity and character of the Maratheftiko on the nose, but has also got structure and a touch of tannin on the finish. A lovely, lovely wine. High fives all round.
Minas clears up the debris of the tasting and now Steve and I both I go out to the terrace to take an espresso.
It was a few years after its release before I got round to Abbey Road. No, the cultural event of 1969 for me was Where Eagles Dare (although it had been released on 4th December of the previous year.) I must have seen this about eight times. For many years I was one of those saddos who would use “Broadsword Calling Danny Boy” as a faux greeting, before Geoff Dyer used the phrase as the title of his quirky book about the film. The memory came to me when I was standing on Mount Troodos earlier. Kyperounda ticks all the boxes, I thought: minerality, indigenous grapes, island locale, altitude – and it was the latter which jolted me back to 1969. Our forthcoming Q3 promotional theme is to be called Altitude! (“…and we must keep the exclamation mark…” I told our Head of Marketing). Standing on Mount Troodos, shivering, I thought that a still from the film’s opening sequence, showing the British commandoes flying over the Alps, would make a great background picture, and I gleefully texted head office. (But such are the lies that memory plays on you. Later at my hotel, when I downloaded the introduction from YouTube, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as I’d remembered, and the photography was compromised by those odd Hammer House of Horror titles. Now I would have to go back to the Head of Marketing with my tail between my legs.)
I am jolted out of my memories by Steve. “Back to work,” he says.
Lefkada, then. We has less to play with here. A 2018 is fresh, minty, herby, with good acidity. A 2007, by contrast, is an absolute monster, very dark and oaky and blackcurranty. Steve asks Minas to blend 85% of the 2017 with 15% of the 2018. This is far too heavily balanced towards the heavy 2017, and I much prefer the 2018 wine. Steve agrees, so we then take 80% of the 2017, add 10% of the 2018, and then 10% of our favourite 2005 Cabernet. Nailed it! Really good balance.
Before we leave, we taste some examples of Commandaria, possibly the oldest type of wine still in production. During the Third Crusade, Commandaria was served at the wedding of Richard the Lionheart to Berengaria of Navarre. Traditionally, this has been made as a fortified wine, but Kyperounda’s is an exceptional example of an unfortified Commandaria, made from 85% Xynisteri and 15% Mavro. Grapes are dried in the sun for twelve days (Minas had earlier shown us the ageing tables downstairs in the winery.) This shrivels them and concentrates sugars, flavour compounds and acids. A slow, cool fermentation follows in stainless steel tanks. The wine is then matured in used 225 litre French oak barrels for six years. The wines we taste, from 2005 and 2006, are unctuous and sweet, with lovely toffee apple character and masses of raisiny fruit.
I finger my rucksack as we drive to our hotel and I can’t help rifling through the Armstrong book again. Maybe it’s because it is the 50th anniversary, but I find myself fascinated by the issue of the missing “a.” I had read somewhere that despite his initial claim that the mike may simply not have picked up the word, Armstrong had acknowledged since that he couldn’t hear himself utter the word in the audio recording of the transmission.
In my room, waiting to go to dinner, I do a quick trawl of the internet. Almost immediately I have the answer. In 2006, I read on one of the many Armstrong/Moonwalk sites, a computer programmer called Peter Shann Ford downloaded the audio recording and analysed the statement with software that allows disabled people to communicate via computers using their nerve impulses. In a graphical representation of sound waves of the famous sentence, Ford said he found evidence that the missing “a” had been spoken after all: It was a 35-millisecond-long bump of sound between “for” and “man” that would have been too brief for human ears to hear.
So Armstrong did get the phrase right!
This somehow seems to energize me and I gush out this information to Steve in the bar over a beer. He obviously thinks I’ve lost the plot and suggests I drink something stronger. I scan the shelves and see a bottle of Commandaria. How time changes over a 50-year period. Commandaria may be facing a difficult future, as it is a style of wine which has gone out of fashion and Minas told us that not many new winemakers wish to take up the good fight. The future of the island – the future of Kyperounda – may lie in the beautiful crisp white wines they make, such as our Petritis or indeed the red blends of grapes which a curious world is waiting to discover. Commandaria is of a different era. It reminds me a bit (and unfairly) of Emva Cream and Bristol Cream, those staples of British Christmas households in the sixties which seemed to me then to define exoticism – until I saw that picture of my auntie Eileen.
But unbelievably this 1969 thing will not go away. In the restaurant they’re playing Riders on the Storm, which seems a bit incongruous. This is Steve’s and my era and we chat about those old rock stars. “Remember him… remember her… wow, he was good…” But their hedonistic lifestyles, while we wouldn’t have minded some of it, also came with occasional tragic consequences. We reminisce on how many of the died before their time. Surfeit of excess. Brian Jones, he was the starting point wasn’t he? In 1969. And then there was Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in 1970, and Jim Morrison himself in 1971.
Amazing. A different era. Doesn’t happen these days.
Who died within the last decade and joined Jones, Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison as a member of the 27 Club: the age at which they passed away.
We raise a glass.
It brings a tear to the eye.
A different era.
Sleep pretty darling, do not cry…