The noblest way to lose money is wine production
We are at the Changa restaurant in the Sabancı Museum. These days, the museum is hosting an exhibition of Miro, one of the world’s most renowned painters. The interest is high. Nazan Ölçer, the director of the museum, said that the exhibition will remain open for two more months and they expect the number of visitors to reach 130,000.
Inspired by Miro, the menu of the restaurant is artistic as well. For example, the soup looks more like a piece of art than a dish.
The reason why we are at the museum is not for the exhibition but rather the wine. A few years ago Güler Sabancı, the CEO of Sabancı Holding, started producing wine as a hobby, which turned into the Gülor wine company. Since then, there have been some important developments in wine production. In 2010, Gülor started to export the wines it produces from Öküzgözü and Boğazkere grapes to California, one of the most important wine centers of the world.
These days, they are happy that these wines have won multiple awards. One came from the United States; the other, from the International Wine Challenge (IWC), one of Europe’s most prestigious competitions. These awards show that the boutique wine production started in the 2000’s has come to an important point.
Wine producers who can no longer move inside the country due to restrictions have now set their eyes abroad. That’s why they want to get a share of the wine market with Turkey’s native grapes. According to Adnan Erem, co-owner of the company, these awards show that Turkish wine produced to international standards is receiving attention from the world.
Turkey is known to the world; its wine producers reach world quality and investments continue, despite restrictions. However, numbers given by Erem show how Turkey is still very much at the beginning of the road when it comes to wine production.
“The Turkish region is where wine was first produced thousands of years ago. 30 billion liters of wine are sold in the world; in Turkey, only 30 million liters. Our share in the world’s trade is zero. All these numbers show how much Turkey’s wine production is still at the beginning of the road.”
Erem said he prepared two strategies when he joined Gülor.
“One of them was to blend local and foreign grapes. You can sell them inside the country. The other is to get Turkish grapes from the regions where they were produced for thousands of years and remain loyal to the originals.”
The road to awards began with these projects. “In this framework, we got in touch with vineyards in Elazığ and Diyarbakır for Öküzgözü and Boğazkere grapes. We sent the grapes to Tekirdağ Şarköy. It was a bit costly, but we ended up with a wine of international quality.”
According to Erem, the only exit strategy of wine producers is export.
Wine producers are seeking the support of the Economy Ministry. They will organize an event in Germany in February for the promotion of Turkish wines. Some 75 percent of the costs will be paid for by the Ministry. “We are going to organize the second one in London in a few years. This support provides an important opportunity. The ministry will support 10 projects and cover promotion expenses for three years,” said Erem.
Can’t they find a common ground with the gastronomy sector, which has been strengthening over the last few years?
“To proceed alongside the gastronomy sector is one of the ways too. For example, the Italian government provides 50,000 euros of support for each new restaurant that opens; the only condition is that it must sell Italian products. We have brought this to the agenda, but it does not look very easy” said Erem.
Having good wine paired with good food is too expensive in Turkey, according to Erem, who said there are additional difficulties in cooperating with the gastronomy sector.
“This is not because wines are expensive but rather because restaurants continue to see wines as a profitable source of income. After the restrictions, the only places we can sell wine are restaurants, and they use this to their advantage. We are looking for new markets. We are interested in the United States, Canada and Russia. In Russia, bear is now considered alcohol, so the new trend is wine. There is no Turkish wine in the Russian market, meanwhile they have the world’s best wines there,” he said.
Export is a priority for Gülor, which is realizing 5 percent of Turkey’s wine exports. The target is to export 200,000 bottles.
The future of the sector will be determined by the amount of success in the international arena, while a solid wine production business comes around with the third generation, according to Erem.
When asked whether Güler Sabancı is regretting entering the wine production business, Erem said, “She does not seem to be; the noblest way to lose money is wine production.”