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turkishartevren Awake in Turkey   Arcadia Vineyards in Thrace, #ewbc 2012

Zero 

Is where the Real Fun starts. 

There’s too much counting

Everywhere else!

- Hafiz, I heard God Laughing

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Technology, as Max Frisch said, is the art of arranging the real so that we no longer notice it. In a hotel room in Instanbul, on the way home from the Digital Wine Communications Conference in Izmir, I can hear the call to prayer bouncing around the minarets across the city and I am wondering: what makes Turkish wine so distinctly Turkish? It was a question that I knew had no easy answers.

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Where do you start with a country as complex as Turkey? I remember first hearing about Thrace in Ancient History studies at school; an area covering parts of Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria whose people traded wines with the Ancient Greeks and feared for their fierce archery skills.

 

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Plato criticised the ancient Thracian custom for not diluting their wine, “Both men and women, drink unmixed wine, which they pour on their garments, and this they think a happy and glorious institution.” Plato said this at a moment in history when wine had become a symbol of Ancient Greek culture. The sharing of the chalice representing democracy, civilisation and refinement. The Ancient Greeks were also the first to make the distinction between the Eastern and Western worlds.

 

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Thrace is about one and half hours drive from Istanbul. Istanbul refuses to give up for 60km and deserves its title as a mega-city with a population of 15 million. But before long, the countryside becomes quiet, dry and ancient and is criss-crossed with power lines before reaching a forest and horse-drawn carts.

 

We are driven by Ozcan Arca, who owns Arcadia Vineyards, the first official vineyard in the area for some time. Ozcan is 70 years old and has been up the night before dancing at the EWBC party. He has had no sleep yet his energy reminds me of Angelo Gaja.

 

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I ask Ozcan, when did he first decide to get into wine? “When I had finished university, we went on holidays down to the sea and drank a dreadful salty wine that had sea water in it (to avoid alcohol taxes). Five or six years later, I was determined to turn this attitude around and learn more. The first great wines I had were Barolo and a Grand Cru St-Emilion.”

 

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Thrace is predominantly an Alevi muslim area, a sect of Islam that prays in Turkish rather than Arabic, drinks wine and dances as part of their rituals (although they do not condone getting drunk). The Alevi have personal wine cellars in their house and are allowed to make up to 500 litres at home for their own personal use. They make wine underground just as they do in Georgia. When we say goodbye at the local restaurant after a lunch of Thracian lamb chops and a salad of tomato and red onion, they put their hand on their heart to say goodbye.

 

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Instanbul is divided between Asia and Europe by a bridge. This is how Turkish people divide the country, although it is a geographic rather than cultural division for the most part. Thrace is in the European part of Turkey. At the 2012 European Wine Blogger’s Conference in Izmir there are posters proclaiming Turkey is a wine culture with over 6000 years of history. Although it is a fragmented history.

 

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It was not until after the vineyard was established that Ozcan found old maps from the time of the agreement between the French and the Ottoman empire, called The Capitulations, and they found their vineyard very close to a wine road that was once used to transport wine to the Black Sea. After phylloxera hit France, the French produced wine here, producing 60 million litres a year to satisfy French thirst and make up the shortfall. The Ottoman empire took stamp duty on the wine but, during World War I, the entire industry disappeared. After a survey of many landscapes across Turkey, Ozcan had inadvertently discovered the dormant vineyards.

 

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When the 26 year old winemaker, Hickmet, applied for a position at Arcadia Vineyards, he was asked if he had had any experience making wine. No. “That’s good,” as Ozcan explains, we wanted young people without any preconceptions and who want to create something for the future. They are guided by consultants Michel Sagues (who set up Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley, California) and Professor Alain Carbonneux from the University of Montpellier. The Arcadia vineyards are located close to the local technical college at Terkidag in Eastern Thrace, which specialise in agriculture, viticlture and oenology. Before deciding to build his own winery, Ozcan visited 50 to 60 wineries around the world. It was then his daughter, Zeynap, decided to go to UC Davis to study wine.

 

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One of the team had to take his young child to hospital that morning. He comes back later for the tasting, exhausted. “Babies grow like that,” Ozcan says philosophically to the young group around the table.

 

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image e1353271608471 620x465 Awake in Turkey   Arcadia Vineyards in Thrace, #ewbc 2012

Ozcan, Arcadia Vineyards winemaking team and Sarah Abbott MW

 

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The first thing that strikes me when I arrive in Turkey from France is the energy; it is an old culture filled with young people. The median age in Turkey in 2012 (where half the population are older, and half the population are younger) is 28.8 years. The median age in France is 40.4 years and in Italy, 43.8 years. (CIA World Factbook, July 26 2012)

 

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The stainless steel tanks are quite small and the winery is designed to let gravity transfer the grapes instead of pumping. We taste the new white wines from the tanks. The young winemaker tells us his experiment with putting sauvignon gris lees with the sauvignon blanc fermenting in the tank. This tempers the sauvignon blanc but also giving it texture. The fruit is there but subdued like biting into the local dessert called Hayrabolu - expecting to taste ultra sweetness but finding it is made of soft cheese. It is more like a Sancerre rather than a New Zealand sauvignon blanc but even that does not do it justice. It is a French variety, but there is something self-assured about this wine, as if it is not trying to hard to be anything but itself.

 

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Later at a local truck stop where the food is local, fresh and very good we try the Cabernet Sauvignon.  We have plates of local dishes brought out on silver plates, one after another: soups, meatballs and I try veal brains (because I can, although no one else wants to join in). The Cabernet Sauvignon is not what I was expecting. What was I expecting? Some of the red wines I had tasted in Turkey, which were heavy on the oak and would go well with a packet of Marlboro Reds. Or perhaps, a heavy new world Cabernet. This had a light freshness, a crunchy light fruit, and even though we are sitting in the sun, it was refreshing. We talk about Sufi poets and how they refer to wine – is it symbolic or literal?

 

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image2 620x465 Awake in Turkey   Arcadia Vineyards in Thrace, #ewbc 2012

In the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard

 

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Central to the interpretation of poet Hafiz … is the understanding of the symbolism of wine. As Inayat Khan observes, “The word ‘wine’ is often used, and according to the mystic each person drinks a wine peculiar to himself. Hafiz pictures the whole world as a wine-press, and every person takes that wine which is in accord with his own evolution. The wine of one is not the wine of another. He wishes to express the idea that every person, whether evolved or ignorant, whether honest or dishonest, whether he realizes it or not, whether he has great belief or no belief at all, is in every case taking a certain wine. It is the type of intoxication produced by that particular wine which is his individuality, and when a person changes, he does so by drinking another wine. Every different kind of wine changes the outlook on life, and every change in life is like taking a different wine” (pp. 152-153). The Mystery Hafiz of Shiraz.

 

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We take the 2009 Finesse Sauvignon Blanc Sauvignon Gris back with us to Istanbul. It is our last night in Turkey and we decide to go to an upmarket fish restaurant on the harbour called Arsipel. The owner joins our table and tells us about his time managing a circus in Tanzania before coming back to Turkey to start up the restaurant. The seafood dishes are innovative: tuna cured like a pastrami and excellent calamari and local fishes. The white wine is superb with the seafood, carrying the meal and conversation, soothing and smooth.

 

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That weekend it was Ataturk Remembrance Day, the founder of modern Turkey. Ataturk reformed the language and Turkish alphabet by abandoning the Arabic script. Over dinner we talked a lot about the history of Turkey. Ozcan filled in the gaps, providing the Eastern perspective to what we thought we knew. The restaurant was filled with groups of people enjoying dinner and wine. It could be a top restaurant anywhere? Seafood speaks more of its place than even wine and it was so fresh the combination could have only been from here.

 

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Wine is the point where culture and the land meet. Wine is not just wine here, it is interwoven into their complex history, and is the nation, their hopes and dreams about the future. A new, but ancient, wine country awakes.

 

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Come to My House 

“If your cellar is empty,

This whole Universe

Could drink forever

From mine!”

- Hafiz

Image: Turkish/Danish artist Evren Tekinoktay

Many thanks to my friend Sarah Abbott MW who took me to visit Arcadia Vineyards and a special big thanks to Ozcan Arca for driving us and the hospitality.

 

 

12 thoughts on “Awake in Turkey – Arcadia Vineyards in Thrace, #ewbc 2012

  1. in Turkey, islamist government tries to block wine producing and drinking,
    by putting heavy taxes.

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