EXPLORING THE EAST
On the eve of our arrival in Turkey, the context is tense: between terrorist attacks, diplomatic conflicts, earthquake and the deterioration of the sanitary situation, everything seems to prevent us from discovering this dream country.
It is therefore with excitement and despite the general counter-opinion that we take the decision to take the road to the East.
Fortunately, the border crossing goes without a hitch: we can thank Alexander, the Sofia wine merchant who agreed to keep our 58 bottles on Bulgarian territory!
In Thrace, the first vineyards we visit are distinguished by their "occidentalism": international grape varieties, "French style" wine, Italian or French oenologists... 1 hour west of Istanbul, on the edge of the Dardanelles Strait, the vineyards are very popular, and invaded every weekend by a crowd of Istanbul inhabitants who come to share a moment over a glass of wine. We discover the friendliness and welcome of these warm people, who will follow us throughout our Turkish journey.
We then make a stopover in Istanbul, a colourful and swirling city. Poor Betty is not in her place in the small steep and crowded alleys of this immense city. The roofs of the mosques invade the sky, where thousands of Turkish flags proudly fly. Young, alive and noisy, Istanbul is however silent for one minute on November 10th, solemn silence in honor of Atatürk, father of the nation.
Gourmet advice: Turkey will be your paradise! Between the baklava, simit, köfte, pide, iksal and kebap, the gastronomic culture is a key characteristic of this Mediterranean country. Turkish tea, called çai (pronounced "tchai") is the ultimate drink: the inhabitants drink it at any time of the day in special curved cups. You will also discover the famous Turkish coffee, and the discovery of your future in your upturned cup.
A few hours from Ankara, a disturbing noise rises from the right rear wheel. The mechanic is appalled: the ball bearing is damaged and the wheel could have gone off-centre at any moment. Betty had a narrow escape, and so did we! Our visit of Ankara, city of the ministries and embassies, is dedicated to the repair of Betty, and as every time, we can count on the enthusiasm and the obstinacy of the garage owners.
In the village of Kalecik, we taste Turkish grape varieties for the first time: Kalecik Karasi, the ancestor of Pinot Noir, Narince, a white grape variety with nutty aromas, and Boğazkere, a tannic and concentrated variety from the border area to Syria.
300 kilometres to the south we discover the magical region of Cappadocia. The incredibly soft rock born of a volcanic eruption 30 million years ago allowed Christians to take refuge here in the 10th century. To protect themselves, they dug real cities out of the rock and you can wander through the remains of their houses, cellars or churches. Everything is deserted, and as far as the eye can see, valleys and canyons stretch out, giving an atmosphere of the Far West with their pastel tones.
The nights are pure but icy, and the air reaches -5°C inside the Betty: we wrap ourselves up under piles of blankets and turn on our little gas heater for the first time. On waking up, the pale pink sky fills with hot-air balloons, to the delight of our astonished eyes.
In this region from another time, viticulture and winemaking seem more traditional. Only two vineyards produce so-called "quality" wine, marketed mainly to the many tourists visiting the region. However, the ancestral wine-growing tradition is still deeply rooted in the customs, and many people produce their own wine in their own gardens and cellars. We feel a real difference with the European wine region of Thrace. We taste native grape varieties: the tannic Boğazkere blended with the milder Oküsgüzü for the reds, the Narince and Emir for the whites, all unique and of high quality.
We are on our way to Kayseri, a town in eastern Cappadocia, to meet a very special winemaker in Turkey, being one of the only ones to produce organic wine. Once again, the landscape is deserted and creates a nostalgic atmosphere. The stories told over a glass of wine take us back in time and give us a glimpse into the past of a region with such a rich history.
Only one black spot tarnishes our Turkish odyssey: the omnipresence and severity of the police, who make a point of arresting us as soon as they see us. The phrase "we want to help you" seems to justify that they always enter our passport numbers into their control software. This strong surveillance causes us a little discomfort, to us for whom freedom is so precious!
A short stopover in Ephesus allows us to discover this impressive city, steeped in history. A walk between the ancient theatre, the arcades and the agora feeds a reflection and a debate on civilisations: if our civilisation were to disappear and you had the possibility to choose the 1000 contemporaries to found a new one on another planet, who would you choose?
The Urla region, near Izmir, is emblematic of Turkish vineyards. The tourist fame of this Egean coast benefits the winegrowers, and wine tourism is particularly developed there. Some estates have a very luxurious façade: the vineyards bordered by palm trees stand side by side with pools of turquoise water and marble statues. Other, simpler estates were born out of a beautiful history of conversion and produce very good wines.
The Betty descends with difficulty a small stony path bordered with Mediterranean trees, which leads us to a sumptuous peninsula. The sunset reflects on the sea and reminds us of the colours of summer, which we would almost believe... if the air wasn't so cold. We meet a Turkish family who immediately start cooking a delicious meal for us. Despite the language barrier, the laughter is communicative and the evening is magical: it is these rare moments that make the beauty of the trip.
Then we head west again, and cross the bridge that connects Asia to Europe in the opposite direction. We pass through Thrace again, which confirms one last time the memories that Turkey will leave us: the warm welcome, the generous food, the magical sunsets and the strong history of a country that we never forget.
We are heading towards Bulgaria and the great cold. The countdown to our return has started: will we be back in time for Christmas?
women in wine
The young food engineer learnt all about winemaking thanks to Bülent Kalpaklıoğlu and is now the nose behind Château Kalpak's wines.
Yonca & Umur Ariner
The brother and sister, after different careers all over the world, took over the family farm to produce Umurbey wine.
During her engineering career in the United States, the super-active Nazan dreams of the Napa Valley lifestyle. In 2004, she returned to Turkey and embarked on the Wine Adventure.
A visionary, his entrepreneurial spirit allows him to promote Turkey's wine-growing legacy by reintroducing native varieties to the Vinkara estate.
This business woman with a biology background is one of the pioneers of organic wine in Turkey.
The young oenologist educated in Montpellier participates in the elaboration of the wines of the prestigious Urla Winery in the region of the same name.
Bilge Benisü Öğünlü
This architect leaves the life she built in the United States to create her little paradise of Urlice in the Izmir region by mixing organic wine and slow food.
To fulfil a family dream, she swapped her high heels for a pair of boots and participated in the development of the Urla Wine Route wines.
The young engineer discovered wine during an internship at Sevilen and now manages the famous 10 million-bottle cellar with as much enthusiasm as ever.
She discovered wine during her studies in Paris and took advantage of the favourable context of the 2000s to start producing a terroir wine with her father. Accompanied by the greatest French specialists, she seeks to achieve authenticity and excellence.
Special thanks to Mr. Can Topsakal of Barbare for all his amazing anecdotes and the discovery of Turkish gastronomy. Mehmet Kocabağ for his warm welcome and informative tour of the Cappadocia region. But also the Turasan and Pamukkale wineries for the moments shared in these places steeped in history.