Perhaps the most prominent recent trend in Turkish winemaking is producers complaining about how much new regulations on the sale and marketing of their product is hurting their industry's growth.
The complaints are not unwarranted. As previously discussed on this blog, new regulations enacted last year severely limit how and where alcohol producers can promote their beverages, to the point that wineries have had to cancel wine-tasting events for fear that they will somehow go against the new rules.
In spite of this development, wineries in the Thrace region -- one of Turkey's best winemaking areas -- have joined together to create what might be the country's most developed wine route. The trail covers some twelve wineries, some of them quite promising. A detailed review of some of the route's stop can be found here and a downloadable guide with maps here.
Turkey's recently passed alcohol law, which limits advertising on booze and the time between which it can be sold, was promoted by the government as being about protecting the nation's youth from the evils of drinking. But it appears one of the law's unintended consequences is that it might pull the legs from under Turkey's up-and-coming wine industry. Reports Businessweek:
The most sweeping -- and vague -- part of the law is its prohibition on advertising and promotion.
“Everybody in the wine business has a problem now,” said Ali Basman, owner of Kavaklidere, the country’s largest winery, and president of the Turkish Wine Producers Association, when I reached him by phone.
“It’s not easy to sell wine without having ads or ways to explain about the winery or show reviews telling how good a new wine is,” he said. “But that’s seen as encouraging people to drink. We will have to do more export.”
Basman doesn’t think he will be able to continue using the winery logo on his business cards or hold special tastings, and will probably have to close down part of his website.
His family founded the winery in 1929. It now owns 550 hectares of vineyards, produces 49 wines, and buys grapes from thousands of growers. If Basman has to cut back on production, who will pay them?
Do French merlots or German rieslings have Turkish ancestors? That's the intriguing proposition raised by a Swiss botanist, who, using DNA analysis, is arguing that many of the wine grapes used today in western Europe and other parts of the world descend from wild grape varieties domesticated by Stone Age farmers in what is now Turkey. Reports AFP:
Today Turkey is home to archaeological sites as well as vineyards of ancient grape varieties like Bogazkere and Okuzgozu, which drew the curiosity of the Swiss botanist and grape DNA sleuth Jose Vouillamoz, for the clues they may offer to the origin of European wine.
Together with the biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern, Vouillamoz has spent nearly a decade studying the world's cultivated and wild vines.
"We wanted to collect samples from wild and cultivated grape vines from the Near East -- that means southeastern Anatolia, Armenia and Georgia -- to see in which place the wild grape was, genetically speaking, linked the closest to the cultivated variety."
"It turned out to be southeastern Anatolia," the Asian part of modern Turkey, said Vouillamoz, speaking at the EWBC wine conference in the Turkish city of Izmir this month. "We propose the hypothesis that it is most likely the first place of grape vine domestication."
McGovern's lab at the University of Pennsylvania Museum also provided archaeological evidence of wine's Anatolian roots after analysing residues of liquid recovered from vessels thousands of years old.
Author of "Uncorking the Past" and "Ancient Wine", McGovern used a sensitive chemical technique to look for significant amounts of tartaric acid -- for which grapes are the only source in the Middle East.
Writing in the International Herald Tribune's Latitude blog, veteran Turkey correspondent Andrew Finkel describes how he recently found out that one of his favorite kebab restaurants recently stopped serving booze. Rather than due to political pressure, it turns out the owner made a business decision: in the part of town where the restaurant was located, many locals will no longer frequent an establishment that serves alcohol.
But Finkel points out that while that restaurant owner's clientele may be shunning booze, a number of well-to-do Turks are investing their time and money in projects that are supporting a small boom in Turkey's wine industry. Writes Finkel:
In all, there some 800 varieties of grape in Turkey, 30 of which are cultivated commercially. The country is the sixth-largest producer of grapes, but most end up eaten as is or as raisins. Only 3 percent are turned into wine. For now.
“Small wineries are transforming the whole industry,” says Isa Bal, the head sommelier of The Fat Duck, the three Michelin star restaurant in Berkshire, who was named Best Sommelier in Europe in 2008. Originally from Adana, a city in southern Turkey known for its pickled red carrot juice, Bal describes a Turkey on the brink of discovering the finer things.
At the moment, for most Turks the good life means owning a house and a car. Bal predicts that in time it will mean “sealing a business deal over lunch with a good wine.”
I, for one, was further reassured over lunch in Urla, about 20 miles from Izmir, at another state-of-the-art winery run by Can Ortabas, who took up growing grapes after he discovered ancient sets of vineyards on his land. Ortabas is not worried that Turkey might turn into Iran.
The last few years have seen some very positive and exciting developments in the world of Turkish wine, one of the most significant ones being the return of the small Aegean island of Bozcaada as a producer of quality wines. Known as Tenedos in ancient times, the island has been a wine-making center since antiquity, but -- like much of the Turkish wine industry -- went through a rather rough and uninspired patch for most of the 20th century. Today, though, Bozcaada is home to Corvus, perhaps Turkey's most respected upscale winery, and to a number of new wineries that are hoping to tap into the island's wine-friendly terroir.
In a wonderful piece for the New York Times, Rome-based travel writer Katie Parla takes a look at the latest developments on Bozcaada, which one winemaker describes as a place where "the earth was made to produce wine." From her article:
An image can call to mind a place, and occasionally a sound does, too. And, of course, so do scents.
One enduring memory of my trip last summer to Bozcaada, an island off the western coast of Turkey, is the aroma of maturing figs, lavender and rosemary carried by persistent winds that locals say help shape the island’s character. Funneled through the Dardanelles, which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean, the winds repel all but the most committed travelers in the winter and attract small numbers of them in the spring and summer. And they help create an environment far different from the mainland: breezy, pleasantly warm and dry, ideal for cultivating grapes.
That means that this 15-square-mile island — a seven-hour trip from Istanbul by bus and ferry — offers solitude with a dash of culture in its only town, also called Bozcaada, and vineyards, whose output has helped make this one of Turkey’s most promising wine destinations.