A bunch of grapes

A bunch of grapes


The history of civilization, in many ways, is intertwined with the history of grapes, at least here in Turkey. The geography that spans from Eastern Anatolia, towards the mountains deep in Georgia and Armenia and down to the plateaus of Iran, reaching to Upper Mesopotamia is considered the land where the wild grape originated. The very first domestication of the wild Eurasian grape Vitis vinifera in southeastern Anatolia is dated sometime between 5,000 and 8,500 BC. From the first bunch of grapes, the evolution of early agriculture and viticulture in parallel with the development of trade and law was dependent on human-grape interactions.

In today’s wine world, 70 percent of the world’s wines are produced from only 30 grape varieties. Generally speaking, there might be a serious problem of diversity in the near future: we may end up drinking almost identical wines, lacking the crucial element in wine culture - excitement!

The international market mostly demands a few crowd pleasers, not very far from the days when white was simply a Chardonnay and a red was a Cabernet Sauvignon. In Turkish versions, the grape was not even mentioned: white was a Çankaya, and a red was a Yakut. No one would ask about the grape, with only the exception of Papazkarası, which was usually nicknamed “köpek öldüren” aka “dog killer,” a potentially dubious one as its name suggests. The Turkish market is way more varied today. People started to look at the type of grapes, but there are still almost forgotten grapes still waiting to be discovered out there. Luckily now, there is huge change, not only in Turkey, but also all around the world. People want to explore wines with local grape varieties more and more. Similar to the trend of local food in the restaurant scene, the wine enthusiast wants to go local and to taste what is new in the market. Funnily, new is usually the oldest.

Turkey is not short of exciting indigenous local varieties. Turkish wine producers, especially small boutique ones, are more and more enthusiastic about exploring the potential of long-forgotten grapes from Anatolia and Thracia. This weekend, on Sunday, June 30, there will be an opportunity to talk and hear about grape heritage in Turkey, thanks to an inspiring event arranged by Sabiha Apaydın, a wine expert and educator, who recently initiated Root-Origin-Soil, an idea which aims at finding more about roots, origins, genetics and soil profiles of Anatolian and Thracian wines. On Sunday, a good number of experts, winemakers and academics will gather for a half-day symposium, titled Anatolian Heritage Grapes.

The symposium will bring together Dr. José Vouillamoz, leading world authority on the origin and parentage of grape varieties through DNA profiling; Ahmet Uhri, professor of history and archeologist; Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis, other distinguished academicians with wine professionals and producers to discuss the past and future of the local grape varieties. Participants also will discuss starting new projects concerning the subject. Swiss botanist and grape DNA researcher Jose Vouillamoz has spent nearly a decade studying the world’s cultivated and wild vines. He and bio-molecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern from U-Penn collected grape samples from the Near East, Anatolia, Armenia and Georgia and concluded that Anatolian wild grapes could be the ones, genetically speaking, linked the closest to the modern cultivated varieties.

Sabiha Apaydın says: “We aim to discuss, the past and the future of our own grape varieties at the symposium.” That is truly what was needed considering such events rarely happen due to legal restrictions, and any wine event that can happen is naturally either a tasting or a competition but not a discussion. Tasting is important, but so is talking… Will it be possible for Turkey, a country that dwells on the lands that gave birth to vines, to recapture the vast grape variety it once had in the past? It is time to scrutinize the grape potential of Turkey, and see if the future of winemaking lies in its past!

Fork of the Week:
What goes with a good glass of wine? The answer is usually unanimous: cheese. Well during the event, there will be interesting Turkish cheeses to taste. Five local cheese producers from five different regions will be there, including goat and buffalo milk cheeses so there will be an opportunity to find out about the cheese potential of Turkey as well.

Cork of the Week:
Throughout the day, samples of 30 wines made from local grapes will be available at a walk-around tasting.