A taste of Provence in Turkey
Wilco Van HerpenAs a teenager I once watched a program about picking grapes in France. People from all over the world would come during the last month of the summer to many different wine farmers to help them harvest the grapes and make more beautiful wine. It looked like fun; working abroad and helping to make wine. La Provence, especially, has a very romantic feeling in its name. When I think about Provence, I think about wine, lavender and good food.
For years, I have been wondering why winemakers in Turkey do not introduce a system similar to that used in Provence. Then I heard about the Buğday association, which has a project called TaTuTa. The Buğday association focuses on offering local and organic food and raising awareness in Turkey about the cultivation and consumption of organic products. To put it bluntly, I think I can say they were the ones to introduce the term "ecologic products" to Turkey.
TaTuTa was exactly what I saw in that program I watched all those years ago. Around 100 organic farms in Turkey open their doors to people who want to help on a farm on a voluntary basis. You can stay at those farms as a volunteer or as a guest. Guests pay a certain amount of money for their accommodation per night, while volunteers work on the farm and, in return, receive accommodation and meals for free. The organization is quite successful and the number of TaTuTa farms is growing every year.
This year, I went to Dikili, a place that did not impress me too much. It is a middle class holiday city with not much of a history. But just outside of Dikili, you can find a new hotel called Vinocasa. The owners Hasan Erman and Evren Evrenosoğlu transformed a farm into a potentially nice hotel. I write potentially because Vinocasa is like a newborn baby. Have you ever seen and lived through the birth of a new hotel? Well, if you have not and want to see a place like that, then I can recommend this place to you. Hasan and Evren are still working on many details to change the farmhouse into a nice hotel, but I feel that this will become the perfect spot to spend some quality time. In the meantime, they are working every day to improve the quality of the hotel. A playground for children is planned, as well as a separate building that will serve as a kitchen and restaurant (on the picture you can see Hasan working in the present kitchen). It all started as a hobby that went out of control. Being very social people, Hasan and Evren used to be visited by friends throughout the year, anyway. Since there was not enough space in the farmhouse, Evren decided to make some rooms in the garden, and slowly his project went out of control. Now they have 18 rooms and all of them were designed by Evren.
On your way to the hotel, after leaving the busy main road that brings you from İzmir, Bergama to Ayvalık, you can find an oasis of tranquility. The last five kilometers to their farm hotel leads you through the wine yards and olive groves. All of it is theirs and during the harvest time, they need people to help with the incredible amounts of work that must be done. Here, the program that I had watched when I was young becomes true. If you want, you can stay in their hotel and help them with the work that has to be done. You can help picking grapes or olives. At the end of the day, of course, there is their homemade wine from last year’s harvest and Hasan or Evren take care that you will not be left without a full glass. Their aim is to become one of the established wine producers of Turkey, a job that will not be very easy because there are quite a number of good wine producers in Turkey and Hassan and Evren are not there yet. But the thing is, I can see their potential. It is a typical no nonsense place; Hasan sometimes treats his guests as if they are working there. “If you are going to get coffee, then also bring me a coffee,” is a sentence I heard many times during breakfast. All of this adds to the relaxed atmosphere of Vinocasa. Within one or two days I found myself participating in making food and serving the friends (guests) that were there. But exactly that is the charm of Vinocasa.
One morning while having breakfast, I saw one of the gardeners working in the garden. Curious about what he was doing, he showed me that it was time to look after the grapes. Just a couple of more weeks and it would be time to start picking the grapes and make wine of them. This year, Hasan is planning to get a specialist in winemaking to the farm so the quality would improve. In between the grape yards, I saw peppers but in such a variety that I wondered what the difference was. It turned out that they had six different kinds of peppers at the farm. I never knew this, but here I learned that there are peppers for breakfast, hot peppers, sweet peppers, peppers for frying, peppers for filling and peppers to grill. All of them are different and all of them were here in this garden. All the vegetables are coming from their own land and for sure, you can taste it.
Vinocasa is not the typical kind of hotel where you feel like a guest and the staff treats you like that. On the contrary, staying in Vinocasa is as if you are at home with the advantage that you do not have to make your bed or clean up the kitchen. I loved it and I am sure that the relaxed treatment will be the key of success for this place.