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30 September 2004

Big Turkish wine export push

An adaptation of this Turkish wine report was first published on Decanter.com on September 30th 2004: I've since added a bit more information and opinion. Click here to view my notes and thoughts on wines tasted on this delight-ful (ho ho) Turkish wine trip...

UK importer Alaturka is spearheading an export drive for wines from Turkey in partnership with Doluca and Kavaklidere, the two largest wineries in an industry previously lacking in co-operation. Out of 100 wineries, most of which are small with very few exporting, Doluca and Kavaklidere are the main players selling to Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Denmark and the US. Medium-sized producer Sevilen also has a presence in market-leader Germany, and boutique winery Melen – crushing 250 tons in Mürefte on the Marmara sea coast west of Istanbul (Thrace region) – exports as much as 40% to Japan and France. The total value of Turkish wine exports hit US$7.3 million in 2003 (up from $5.23m in 2001), although the figure for the US was only $263,000 with a hefty 60% ending up in Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg.
Doluca now produces 13 million bottles annually and Kavaklidere’s total capacity reached 17.5 million litres this year. Overall production in Turkey has increased steadily according to official figures (which are a bit thin on the ground): 1997 - 44 million litres, 2003 (estimated) - 57.1 m litres. Both firms have invested heavily in modern vinification and storage facilities. Doluca head Ahmet Kutman, the UC Davis-trained son of company founder, claims to have put “one to two million US dollars per annum over the last ten years” into their winery near Mürefte, opened in 1993. Kavaklidere recently completed an impressive unit near Gülşehir in central Anatolia, at a cost “in excess of US$3 million”, surrounded by a 200 hectare (ha) vineyard, and is planning to build a third winery.
Crucially, the big concerns have already turned their attention to vineyards focusing on both international and Turkish varieties. Indigenous white grapes include Narince, Emir and the ubiquitous Sultaniye; and reds Boğazkere, Öküzgözü and Kalecik Karasi. Of the 541,000 ha under vine, mostly owned by farmers who sell grapes and don’t make wine, at least two-thirds are destined for the table or dried fruit. However, new plantings and grafting from sultana to more suitable varieties are accelerating. Official wine production figures stand at 50-60 million litres annually. Changes within TEKEL, the government company that controls the alcohol business, have effectively ended a state monopoly situation and the compulsory purchase of grapes, thus enabling wineries to increasingly influence the quality and maturity of the fruit they buy.
As regards the potential for international varieties, it's more a question of who's growing and vinifying them, as some wineries appear to be picking too early (based on sugar levels but not skin or acid ripeness) and/or to have winemaking or hygiene problems in the cellar. Some varieties were planted over 10 years ago: e.g. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Semillon, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Carignan, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, Shiraz. The best examples tasted on a trip in September 2004 might indicate which regions are the most suitable for each variety, although so far volumes are small.
Melen Winery's Shiraz Rezerve and Merlot Rezerve are both good, particularly the former, made in a more 'modern' style. Owner Cem Cetintaş believes "blends such as Merlot/Kalecik Karasi or Semillon/Narince work well and could be the way for export." Doluca's Sarafin range is made from international varieties grown in dedicated vineyards on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The wines are only currently available in Turkey due to the small quantities produced, yet the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are among their best wines; and the Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are also decent enough examples.
Their Eurasia Two Continents brand, a blend of Cab Sauv and Öküzgözü sourced from both of Turkey's landmasses, made by international consultant John Worontschak is clearly aimed at UK multiple retailers (about £4.99), but is frankly disappointing. Other blended wines showing promise include 'Karma' Merlot/Boğazkere, as does their straight Riesling. Kavaklidere doesn't make straight varietal wines from French grapes at the moment, but does have some attractive blends such as 'Angora' red (Gamay/Cinsault) or a Sauvignon Blanc/Sultana dry white, a pretty good rosé and a couple of acceptable Cava-esque sparklers available in larger volumes apparently.
So, no there won't be a glut of Turkish Chardonnay on the shelves in the US or anywhere else in the near future but might be a few years down the line... I was told most of the wine currently exported is sold into Turkish restaurants, especially in Germany where there are lots of them. On the other hand, producers are hoping to progress beyond that 'Turkish restaurant wine' syndrome! A difficult juggling act, but it seems possible that certain producers could establish a niche in other quality restaurants and wine shops with unique Turkish varieties and blends with internationals. Namely the ones who get their vineyards, winemaking and marketing right over the coming years...

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.