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Sharing the fruits of the vine

For 12 years a peer of the British realm has been living the quiet life amongst the vineyards of Lemona, and this year he hopes to bottle his own vintage. NAN MACKENZIE meets him

I doubt if Sir Edward Dillon Lott du Cann KBE realises how much he has in common with Madonna, Sting, Cliff Richard, Francis Ford Coppola, Davy Crockett, Gerard Depardieu and Olivia Newton John. He has joined an ever swelling rank of celebrity vintners who either buy a winery and produce their own wine, lend their name to the winery, or become partial partners with a stake in a particular type of grape, doing so to enjoy the art and science of wine making on a purely personal level.

The latter is what Edward is involved, having invested in a section of the Tsangarides vineyards in Lemona, Paphos on which he grows his own vines and will this year bottle his first vintage. When talking about his vinous experiences to date he shows obvious pleasure and his clear enthusiasm for the particular section of vineyard he has adopted certainly make for a very happy and obviously contented man.

“Even approaching my 90th year I still believe in taking the ‘long view’,” he says, “a philosophy which both Angelos Tsangarides and his father share, they have this incredible passion for their vineyards and the fact that they are dedicated to the organic process coupled with their commitment to quality attracted me to get involved, albeit on a small scale.

“Angelos is also a great mentor and it’s important that if you do this you team up with someone who really knows what they are doing. There is a great deal that goes into making quality wine apart from growing the grapes the way you want them, and it’s fascinating for me to learn some of the steps that you have to go through and in Angelos I have someone who has the same feeling about not messing around with the soil, of keeping the terroir (soil) clear of man’s interference, as so much of our lands are becoming or have become artificial through modern forms of agriculture and that to me does not make for good wine. I am a firm believer that the best fertilizer for the vine is the shadow of its owner”.

But how did he get into the world of wine in the first place? “These days my motivation is more spiritual than fiscal, but when I was a chief executive of a company whose interests included wineries based in some of the most famous vine growing areas of France, I was always very keen to visit our investments and it was during these annual trips that I became more and more fascinated by not only the process but the end result, which has happily stayed with me all these years”. It is not just wine that has drawn him in though. “I also love a glass or two of Somerset cider and having been the MP for Taunton was also able then to become quite a good judge of the local brew”.

His current situation seems at first to be a somewhat unlikely pairing, this nonagenarian peer of the British realm and the fourth generation Cypriot vintner. Where Angelos was born and bred in Lemona and dreams of creating a sustainable organic winery Edward, the son of a barrister, was privately educated in London before being sent to boarding school in Suffolk.

Following too in the family footsteps, Edward is an Oxford graduate with an MA in law. He served as a Conservative MP for Taunton from 1956 to 1987 then held a top ministerial office at the treasury, was Minister of State at the board of trade before becoming Chairman of the Conservative party during the Thatcher years. He also had a pivotal role as chairman of the influential 22 committee which in 1975 helped unseat the then British Prime Minister Edward Heath, and so pave the way for the election of Britain’s first woman to the post.

He is also a veteran of WWII, having served in the Royal Navy on MTBs (motor torpedo boats) – known as ‘mosquito boats’ they were used to attack surface ships but they also laid mines, created smoke screens and were invaluable in rescuing downed flight crews. Edward and his crew would be operating at high speed and at night, undertaking exceedingly risky work as the boats offered little or no armour as the crew snuck up on their target where the surprise factor coupled with their level of agility meant they could hit and run before the enemy guns could fire upon them. Being directly involved in such dangerous covert operations, the use of stealth, patience, bravery and an ever abiding resilience must have stood Edward in good stead for whatever was later fired upon him during his political life.

Surely the Houses of Parliament too must have been a good base for adventuring into new wines. An enormous £1.33 million was spent in the nine bars at the house of Commons in the year to March 2012 and the cellars now boast 44,000 bottles of 69 different wines.

“Indeed there is a good cellar which is also used for political entertaining, hosting parties for foreign dignitaries and the like and as such one must put on a good show. But the contents of the cellar would have been a darn sight more exciting if Robert Maxwell, then an MP, had not become chairman of the catering committee”. His role involved overseeing spending on entertaining but also ensuring a budget was kept to. As such he sold off some of the rarer wines to pull back into the red. “The catering department did indeed come out of the red but at a huge cost to those who knew the quality and value of the wines that had been carefully laid down for the long term”.

The obvious question here is was former PM Margaret Thatcher among those who appreciated the value of wine. “I remember when Margaret entered the House of Commons she did not drink. It was a time when the male dominance in parliament was very high so the culture was very much that of a male club where one would enjoy a whisky and soda at the end of the day to talk over debates etc so when Margaret came into office she realised this was the way things were done and in order to get that level of ‘off the record’ so to speak ‘talks’, she would then have to imbibe. I poured her a whisky and to her great credit she drank it and from there on she would accept one during these informal discussion times but she wasn’t a great drinker”.

Edward Du Cann Speaking at Conference
Edward Du Cann Speaking at Conference

As chairman of the party Edward had greater access than most to the seat of power and before Thatcher was listed as a candidate for Prime Minister even considered putting himself forward. “I had the full support of the very influential MP Airey Neave who offered to become my campaign manager, but my late wife was never going to accept the level of security and resultant dramatic personal changes that would be required for the family. It would not have been possible for her”. A mute point given that Neave went on to help Thatcher become elected and was killed in 1979 in a car bomb attack at the House of Commons with the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) claiming responsibility for his death.

Edward also had a narrow escape a few years later when a bomb went off at the Conservative Party conference in Brighton in 1984, a bomb planted by the IRA with the aim of killing Thatcher, which left her unscathed but five dead and 31 seriously injured.

“The bomb which had 20lbs (9kg) of gelignite went off at 2:45 am. Mercifully Margaret was in the living room of her suite working on her speech but her bathroom was hit badly. I escaped unscathed as I had been invited to stay the night by the owner of a hotel adjacent to the Grand. It was very unusual for me to do this as I was booked in the suite directly next to Margaret’s on every other occasion but this one time I wanted to meet with the owner who was also a friend and so made the change. That was one of my truly fortunate moments both for me and my family”.

This all seems a far cry from his current lifestyle – he has spent the last 12 years as a resident of Lemona away from the cut and thrust of politics. “At this time in my life I want to keep the principles that should be with every politician and that is to be able at some stage to put something back into the community. The residents of Lemona have been very kind and have shown me great generosity, so I am delighted to be able to use the experiences gleaned during the past to help build a future for the village and the winery, and I do care that young men like Angelos get the support they need, so I give the odd bit of advice on matters not directly related to the making of the wine, that’s the winemaker’s job, although we do regularly walk the vineyards together, always talking to the vines as we proceed, gently encouraging them to do their very best for us and hopefully by the end of this year I will be able to serve at home some of my very own label wine to friends and house guests, having always believed that wine is rarely a solitary pursuit as good things must always be shared”.

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