The disappearance of the Turkish grape
The vast vineyards of businessman Lucien Arkas are located close to the antique city of Metropolis near İzmir in western Turkey. During a recent business trip to İzmir, at a lunch in Arkas’ vineyards, I thought once again about how valuable the grape is for these lands, where grapes and mythology coexist.
As far back as 3,000 BC we come across grapes in Hittite and Sumerian tablets, or in recently unearthed mosaics.
Someone who strongly believes the grape is an indispensable product of these fertile lands is Gözdem Gürbüzatik. She is the business unit manager of Mey Diageo Turkey Wine, and for three years she has been the head of the Wines of Turkey Committee. Gürbüzatik strives to promote Turkish wines internationally – wines produced from local grapes grown here for millennia.
Within the context of the Economy Ministry’s “Project for Improving International Competitiveness,” and with the support of the Istanbul Exporters’ Union, Gürbüzatik has been promoting Turkish wines in countries such as the United States, Germany and the U.K. She says she is tired of being asked questions like, “Are you allowed to grow grapes in vineyards in Turkey?” when speaking to foreigners. As a matter of fact, Turkey is the world’s fifth top grape producer, with around 4 to 5 million tons of grapes produced here annually.
The Boğazkere and Öküzgözü grapes from Elazığ, which date back to thousands of years; Ankara’s Kalecik Karası; the Narince, grown around Tokat province; Cappadocia’s Emir grape; and Çanakkale’s Karakız grape, which has become a rising star in recent years, have all very recently been introduced to the international market. Gürbüzatik says Turkish wine has an interesting taste for palates accustomed to more well-known grapes such as Merlot, Cabarnet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Shiraz.
Turkey’s wine sector had until recently been engaged in a major leap with local wines and boutique winemaking. Unfortunately, with the recently introduced tighter legal obstructions on alcohol, it is today in a desperate situation. A number of established winemakers have given up. The latest name to abandon the sector is Oluş Molu, one of the top boutique winemakers in Kayseri. Several winemakers in Denizli, which was once spoken of as potentially becoming Turkey’s Tuscany, have also quit. Gürbüzatik says there has been a 20 percent decline in grape purchases this year.
Mey Diageo has wine production facilities in the eastern province of Elazığ and near the town of Şarköy in Tekirdağ in northwestern Turkey. “Grape-growing is going through a tough time. In particular, good quality local grapes are hard to grow as they need very special care,” Gürbüzatik says.
The sector has been squeezed by both the recent legal obstacles and the major crisis in tourism that has hit the wider food and beverage sector.
“The Öküzgözü and Boğazkere wines produced in Elazığ had great potential in the international market. But because of recent developments, the producers growing these grapes have become demoralized,” Gürbüzatik says. Indeed, wine production with local grapes has fallen by 5 percent compared to the same period last year.
This decline is happening at a time when the reputation of Turkish cuisine continues to rise in the international arena, a time when Turkish chefs are becoming better known (the Mikla Restaurant of chef Mehmet Gürs in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu was recently ranked 56th in the world’s top 100 restaurants).
Sadly, Gürbüzatik is right to observe that we are witnessing “the disappearance of the Turkish grape.”