Women for wine
When Levent Kömür, the new CEO of Mey group, raised his glass to all the women on the table, it was a memorable moment marking the end of a long neglected recognition. Someone had finally acknowledged the power of women in the Turkish wine industry. In today’s Turkey, there is an increasing number of women working in the wine sector; actually there are only a handful of wineries that do not have women in key positions, including the winemakers.
Turkey is the number one wine producing Muslim country in the world. The country is home to a countless variety of heirloom grapes. Vineyards have always been a dominating feature of Anatolian and Thracian landscapes. It is true that most of the grapes end on plates, not in glasses, but there is also a considerable portion that is destined for the bottle, if not for wine, for rakı, the grape-based distilled spirit which is considered to be the national drink of Turkey. Most table grapes are consumed as fruit either fresh or dried, or transformed into molasses, fruit leather or sweetmeats, yet wine making has always been a part of Anatolian history. The first-ever viticulture laws in the world were established during the Hittite period about four millennia ago to safeguard the Anatolian vineyards.
As said, not all grapes are necessarily intended for the bottle, but despite the restrictions on alcoholic drinks, the wine and spirit sector is thriving every other year. Mey İçki, now owned by Diageo, once the state monopoly in the spirit sector, is a living example of this; they are one of the five biggest companies in the agriculture sector. The role of women in the company is outstanding; 61 percent of all staff is women, moreover, four out of eight members of the executive board are women. A woman, Gözdem Gürbüzatik, heads Kayra, the wine brand of Mey group. A woman, Ayça Budak, heads the Turkish branch of International Wine & Spirit Academy (IWSA). Marketing Manager Pınar Algın, Human Resources Chief Elvan Erben, Legal Director Meltem Azbazdar and Corporate Relations Manager Yasemin Erkut are other women in key positions.
Moreover, the company works with the PR guru Necla Zarakol since its foundations for 14 years, a woman legendary in the PR business in Turkey, with a team mostly consisting of women again, nowadays backed with her sister, Nurcan Akad, once a legendary journalist and the first female editor-in-chief of a Turkish daily. Zarakol practically has been instrumental in shaping Mey’s public relations and has helped to pave their strategy in tough times. It is not only about the white-collar administrative staff behind the desk. When it is the actual wine making process, again the grapes are in the hands of women. It is women who pick the grapes. Most of the workers who toil in the vineyard from the first lights of dawn are almost always women regardless of the region. One of the chief winemakers of Kayra is Özge Kaymaz Özkan, a talented young lady who has been with the company for 14 years. Being from a family who used to work for Tekel, the state monopoly in spirits, she was practically born and raised in the industry. When asked she says she is proud of being the first winemaker to think of making a Blanc de Noir with Kalecik Karası grapes; her Allure series first created in 2010 includes a crisp white reflecting her experiences in New Zealand.
The list goes on and on. The case of Mey is not single; there are so many women in key positions in the wine sector. Many other wineries have women winemakers: Ahu Tokgöz is a winemaker in Kavaklıdere; Semril Zorlu who used to make many of the Kavaklıdere wines now works freelance just as the oenologue Fulya Akıncı; vineyard specialist Gülçin Akçay was in the starting team of Chamlija for years, and then moved to make memorable wines for Saranta and other boutique wineries in Thrace. These examples are just to name a few; all these ladies have created several international medal-winning wines to be proud of. Apart from the winemakers, there are girls in the toilsome road in becoming masters of wine. Dallas-based Dilek Caner had been the first and only Turkish MW to win the elusive title; now two other women, Tuğba Altınöz and followed by Şeyma Baş, will be challenging to get the title. The winner of the sommelier competition in 2015 was a young girl, Nebiye Kaya. The bubbly Burçak Desombre singlehandedly has been organizing the Thracian Wine Competition for three years.
Kömür stresses on the fact that in the company they do not necessarily perform positive discrimination, but all these women are in their position simply because they are very good at what they do, surpassing their male competitors. Cheers to all the wine women! Turkish wines owe a great deal to your dedication; and a special toast goes to Kömür, a true gentleman indeed to recognize the womanpower behind him.
Recipe of the Week: The chef of the all-women journalists dinner hosted by Kömür was of course a woman. Chef Didem Şenol had been famous for bringing the much-loved zucchini fritters of home kitchens to the restaurant scene. She says she always had a soft spot for her mother’s mücver, aka zucchini fritters; when she became a chef she did not think twice to add the fritters to the menu. Since then it became almost a trademark of her restaurants. Here is how she makes them: Grate 1 kg of zucchini without peeling, season with salt, toss and put in a strainer to drain excess liquid oozed with the salt. Let it stand a little and squeeze the excess water from the grated zucchini. Finely chop a bunch each of parsley and dill, and 1 onion. Put all in a mixing bowl with the grated zucchini. Grate or crumble 150 g of white cheese into the mixture. Add 4 eggs and 200 g of white flour, mix thoroughly and adjust the seasoning adding salt and pepper to taste. Keep in the fridge for half an hour. Heat olive oil or hazelnut oil in a pan, about two fingers deep, enough to shallow fry. When the oil is sizzling hot drop in the zucchini, batter by spoonful, frying both sides for a few minutes. When the fritters are golden brown remove on a paper towel with thongs. Serve warm with a dip of plain yoghurt or garlic yoghurt.