I just caught the bus that will take me from the Ataturk airport of Istanbul to Taksim, and we are moving at a snail’s pace through the traffic. Europe is on my left, and Asia Minor is on my right: it is a sight that takes me back in time, imagining what the conquerors and merchants of the past might have thought while crossing the Bosporus, a sense of power and mystery, curiosity and wonder.
My Turkish blitz originated from my curiosity to visit the new winery Arcadia, located in Thrace and owned by my dear friend, Zeynep Arca. It is my intention to begin distributing my wines in this very difficult, yet attractive, market. Why Turkey? Because it is a nation with a large population of young people who are curious and motivated, but above all with an enthusiasm that Italy dreams of. Wine is experiencing an impressive growth, thanks in part to the opening of new small Turkish wine-producing enterprises, which are searching for distant historical roots in wine-production, and receiving technical assistance from Italian and French experts. I was in Turkish Thrace, in the town of Cesmekolu, where the landscape is somewhat similar to our central Italy. Zeynep showed me her new, technologically-advanced wine-producing cellar, and the new vineyards. The terrain changes from one hill to the next, and we pass from red clay mixed with stones to arrive at grey silt. We tasted the products: A Sauvignon Gris, a Sauvignon Blanc and a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The vineyards are young and in an experimental phase, but one glimpses an interesting potential.
In Turkey there are native grape varieties to develop, such as Öküzgözü or Bogazkere (the latter being very tannic), but there is still much work to be done, work that it certainly not aided by the Islamic government. From another point of view, however, wine is fattening the coffers of the State through very high taxation, and so there is a classic contradictory behaviour in play which can’t help but complicate comprehension of the market. Perhaps it is for this very reason that I find it so fascinating. It intrigues me that the history of this peninsula is so similar to Italy; our country is a geographically strategic bridge between northern Europe and the Mediterranean, while Turkey is the bridge between the Mediterranean and Asia. Historically these two populations were always close; an example of this is the presence of the Levantines, rich Genoese and Venetian families who have been established in Turkey for hundreds of years.
Returning to the Turkish wine market, in composition it is 3% foreign wine, of which 1.5% is Chilean and 1.5% from the rest of the world…. Obviously is a perfect market niche for Barolo and this is the most appreciated Italian wine, even if there are still very few wineries represented.
The well-off Turkish class loves to travel and enjoy life, Mediterranean cuisine is inclusive of Italian food and for this reason I believe that our wines would be very well suited to their culinary traditions. We need, however, to debunk the prejudice of the non-drinking Islamic-Turk, because it is not true. Certainly there are those who do not drink alcohol, but Turkey is a proudly secular population, therefore wine is accepted although not impudently publicized.
In 2010 it is no longer acceptable for a young Italian to believe that the Turks are Arabs and that all Turkish Muslims do not drink. Sometimes we complain of having difficulty selling our products, but then I ask myself how much we are doing to inform potential buyers. In western Turkey one does not perceive problems with religious integration, Christian churches and Orthodox churches alternate with mosques, and the co-existence seems positive. Certainly in the extreme east at the confines with Iraq and Iran it is not so simple, but I will let you know when I go there, perhaps to visit the wine region of Mesopotamia that I find so enthralling.
It is really true that sometimes the answer is found in words…the word “religion” in the ancient Acadian language of Mesopotamia means “control of the populace”.