Sun, Oct 15, 2017 - Page 15 News List

Turkey’s wine industry refuses to wither, despite constraints

Restrictions on advertising and a ban on alcohol sales on the Internet have limited consumption of wine in the Muslim-majority country, which is blessed with an ideal climate for viniculture

By Fulya Ozerkan  /  AFP, CANAKKALE, Turkey

Winemaker Hikmet Ataman tests wine barrels at wine producer Suvla in Canakkale, Turkey, on Aug. 28.
Warning: Excessive consumption of alcohol can damage your health

Photo: AFP

On the verdant, fertile Gallipoli Peninsula in northwest Turkey, headscarf-clad women in colorful clothes harvest grapes in the blistering late summer heat.

However, they will never taste the flavors of the wine that will emerge from the grapes they pick.

“We eat the grapes, but have never drunk wine, none of us drink wine,” said Aynur, the head of the picking team.

Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country and, with alcohol considered to be haram (prohibited) under Islam, many will not touch a drop throughout their lives.

Yet, the country is blessed with an ideal climate for viniculture, with hot, but humid weather and even a long wine-making tradition.

“The climate is very suitable, we have warm summers, we have humidity in the air, so the plants are very active and very happy,” said Mark Sims, the Australian vineyard manager at Suvla, the main producer on the peninsula.

Suvla started up in Gallipoli in the 2000s, mainly with French grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

However, most wine in Turkey is made from more than a half-dozen native grape varieties, such as Kalecik Karasi, Okuzgozu and Narince, although growers increasingly use European varieties, partly in a bid to find new markets.

According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, Turkey has the fifth-largest area of vineyards under production in the world.

However, most of the grapes are destined to be eaten as fresh or dried fruit. Turkey accounts for just 0.05 percent of global wine production and 0.06 percent of consumption, according to the California-based Wine Institute.

“The vast majority of grapes are used for other purposes, largely due to religious reasons,” said Murat Yanki, a sommelier, who runs Turkish wine tourism Web site vinotolia.com.

As well as the Gallipoli Peninsula, its main producers are concentrated on the Aegean coast, in central Anatolia and a small area in the southeast.

“It’s correct to say there is an excellent quality due to an improvement in the vineyards and the treatments, especially in the last 10 years,” Yanki said.

However, foreign interest was weak, with just 2 percent exported, he said.

Belgium is the biggest market abroad for Turkish wine, followed by breakaway northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey, Turkish Ministry of Economy data showed. Exports also go to Germany, Britain and the US.

However, winemakers complain that high taxes and a tightening of regulations under the Muslim-rooted government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have hampered business.

In 2013, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party pushed through the Turkish Grand National Assembly a controversial law on alcohol sales and drinking that also banned advertising.

The law halted alcohol sales between 10pm and 6am and prohibited them in the immediate vicinity of schools and mosques.

Erdogan justified the measures on public health grounds, while the government argued that the move was simply to regulate, not ban, consumption.

Restrictions on alcohol sales in Turkey are nothing new. In the 17th century, Ottoman Sultan Murad IV famously banned tobacco, coffee and alcohol — although he ironically died of alcoholism.

All forms of alcohol advertising are now outlawed in Turkey. If an alcoholic brand is in a shot during a TV report, it is blurred out. Producers have turned to social media to try to counter the ban.

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