The wine region of Thrace, or Marmara, is the most European part of the country and accounts for about 40% of Turkey’s wine production. It is an exciting, dynamic high quality region where the Turkish wine revolution started its journey at the end of the 20th century. Its warm, coastal, Mediterranean climate produces some of Turkey’s most elegant and balanced wines, thanks in part to its high diurnal temperature range. Among indigenous grapes planted here is the black variety Karalakna and the recently revived Yapincak and Kolorko white varieties.
Before last year’s DWCC conference, a small press group visited several wineries in Thrace and on the historic Gallipoli peninsula in search of the modern wines of Turkey. We found three wineries doggedly, yet innovatively, persevering in the face of adversity.
The project began in 2002, when father and daughter team Ozcan and Zeynep Arca drove around Turkey every weekend for two years, analysing soil samples and climatic conditions, aided by two French consultants, Michel Sagues and Prof. Alain Carbonneux, before finally settling on a site in Thrace, north of Lüleburgaz and in the shadow of the Istranca mountains. Here they found the ideal microclimate to produce their ideal of terroir, minimal intervention wines reflecting the grape varieties. They were among the first to replant in the region in the early 2000s but now a further 100 hectares have been planted by locals and investors. Their first vintage was in 2009.
They adopt a sustainable approach in their 35 hectares of lyre-trained vineyards, which they use in order to enable the vines to remain well-aerated and healthy. The winery is designed to use gravity flow and minimise pumping. Zeynep proudly showed us their new gentle destemming technology; all their grapes are hand-picked. Small stainless steel tanks allow the wines to be microvinified before being bottled unfined and very lightly filtered.
They are the first winery in Turkey to cultivate Sauvignon Gris, a low-yielding variety of Sauvignon Blanc, along with a range of international varieties and the native Narince and Öküzgözü.
Zynep is also passionate about raising the profile of the region as a destination for cultural and gastronomic tourism, so a recent addition is the boutique Bakucha Vineyard Hotel and Spa, boasting a restaurant serving dishes made from local produce and a spa with a beautiful traditional Hammam, swimming pool and hot tub overlooking the vineyards. You can also climb (or take the lift) up the tower for a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.
Vines were clearly no stranger to this area in the past: to the west of the vineyards, ancient maps show a route called the ‘Wine Route’, along which wine made in the region was transported, heading for ships bound for France and Italy. It was also known as Baǧlik Yakasi, ‘the Vineyard Valley’, and Lezengrad, the ancient name of Kirklareli, translates as ‘Grape Town’. Lüleburgaz was known as Arcadiapolis and Arcadia in mythology means ‘Heaven on Earth’, which aptly reflects what Ozcan and Zeynep are trying to create here.
Vinero Baǧcilik, founded under the umbrella of the Toksöz group in 2011, is an estate set deep in the forest, reached by a long bumpy dirt track, which focuses on viniculture, olive cultivation and fruit. They have 160 hectares of vines, mostly planted with red Bordeaux, low yield, high quality clones, but they are also conducting experiments to find the ideal clones for indigenous varieties. They say that they started with local Turkish varieties but found that there was a lack of good clonal selection, hence the research into autochthonous clones now. With Michel Rolland as consultant, a spacious, high-tech gravity flow winery and a luxurious boutique hotel with spa, Hammam and top-class restaurant (currently under construction), evidently no expense has been spared on this project.
Asli Bayhan, the young oenologist, a graduate of Bordeaux University is crafting a range of wines using traditional methods and modern wine-making techniques, which we sampled in unlabelled bottles. They count a blend of Viogner, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, a red Bordeaux blend and a Chardonnay among their range. The wines will be launched this year under the brand ‘Porta Caeli’, ‘Gate to Heaven’, named after Seçkim Pirim’s sculpture just outside the hotel, which at certain times of day casts a shadow shaped like a wine glass.
The hotel and winery is due to open officially this year, so our group was the first to stay there. Its 20 spacious, beautiful, hi tech rooms with their glass-walled bathrooms affording a view over the vineyards, its luxurious spa and its excellent, innovative Turkish cuisine beautifully presented by Chef Ali will ensure a wonderful stay even for the most discerning of guests. I can honestly say the bed was the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in, having to leave it at 5.30 to set off for our next port of call was extremely difficult.
Suvla is a family-owned producer located in Eceabat by the Çanakkale Strait on the Gallipoli peninsula. Its 60 hectares of organic vineyards were established in 2003 by Selim Zafer Elliati and named Bozokbaǧ after a bay on the north coast of the Aegean Sea. They grow a variety of black and white international varieties, but also have a trial plantation of local varieties such as Kinali Yapincak and Karasakiz, as well as a traditional olive oil mill. The winery, established in 2009, also processes its grapes using gravity. It released its first vintage in 2012, just prior to the introduction of the draconian alcohol laws. Its wines have achieved success in international wine competitions, but it unfortunately cannot use this to attract new consumers.
Their winery shop showcases their wines and other natural products. They also boast a gourmet restaurant and tasting bar where they kindly allowed us to conduct an impromptu tasting of indigenous Turkish varieties.