It is a sunny but slightly chilly spring day in Izmir – one that you know will not last because the hot summer will soon appear. But as it is, the Aegeans and the guests of spring would rather go out in search of green fields rather than the blue of the sea.
Our small group of eight start the route mid-morning in anticipation of a bombardment of information on “the new wines of the old lands” followed by an equally dense wine tasting. The visitors from the United States, an Izmirian woman married to a truly international man, are particularly eager, as they have seen the New York Times describe Urla vineyards, USCA and Urliçe, as one of the 52 destinations to go to in 2016.
The Urla wine route consists of half a dozen vineyards that comes of different sizes: from the vast, Urla Wines, with its large caves and professional guides to introduce you its award-winning wines, to the small, rustic charm of Urliçe, with a porch that opens up onto the plantations.
But rather than the cut-throat rivalry ones sees in other sectors, the vineyards have decided to join forces and establish the “Urla Wine Producers and Viticulture Association” – now the main voice of the “Urla Wine Route,” which offers the visitor a tour of two days to see several vineyards. The group also managed to obtain funding from the Izmir Development Agency (İZKA) for the promotion of the route.
The owners of the vineyards are quick to point out that the peninsula has been a traditional wine-producer since 1000 B.C. Conquest-minded Persians, the commercially inclined Lydians and the many owners of the peninsula kept up the tradition of wine making, eventually exporting it to the rest of the world. When non-Muslims started moving away, the vineyards were abandoned and the local producers of grapes started selling the grapes rather than continue with the local production of wine.
Then, about a decade ago, the peninsula witnessed a second revival. A couple, Bilge and Reha Öğünlü, decided to return from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to settle in Urla, take over Bilge’s mother’s vineyards and start making wine under the name “Urliçe.”
Urliçe was quickly followed by Urla Wines of Can Ortabaş, an Izmir businessman who established a very sophisticated winery, complete with gravity flow techniques, stainless steel tanks and a mixture of American and French oak barrels.
And then there were many… Two couples, dentists and lawyers, decided to escape the city life and establish their brand, USCA. Nearby, MMG Wines was founded by brain surgeon Professor Metin Güler, who joined forces with his son and daughter. The Mozaik and Limanbey vineyards joined in.
“Some of us were locals who made a comeback, others were newcomers. What united us was our desire to demonstrate that we can revive ancient grapes, get new ones and produce world-class wines,” Bilge Bengisu Öğünlü told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview. “We learned from each other’s experience, we helped each other with paperwork and obtaining permits. We became friends and partners. We are a handful of people who like working together.”
But it was not simply comradeship, sunsets and sipping wine together. “When we started, there was the firm belief that only certain grapes can be raised here, because the climate was, allegedly, too hot. But the microclimate in the peninsula is a particular one: it is windy and the evenings are cool. It is a bit like Sicily – warm but with the influence of the winds that come from the sea. Many people were convinced that it was not a good climate for Cabernet Sauvignon. They were wrong. Not only did we grow it, but our Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009 received two awards; one is called “Best Young Red Dry Wine.”
Urla Wines revived ancient grapes such as Gaidoura, a rare grape that is produced also in the Greek islands, and Urla Karası (Noir d’Urla), a berry-colored grape that blends well with Nero d’Avola, one of the most important red wine grapes in Sicily. Another antique grape of the region, Foça Karası (Noir de Focai), is grown and bottled by USCA Wines under its “Sonnet” label. MMG, meanwhile, has created its “Şatomet” label with its dry Muscat of Bornova. The new varieties and hybrids have led to many international awards, from Mahrem Petit Verdot’s (Mozaik) bronze medal at the International Wine Challenge to Urla Nexus’ bronze medal in the Sommelier Wine Awards.
Bengisu Öğünlü believes that there are more to the vineyards than great sips of wine. “The agro-tourism will liven up the whole region – it will enable a sustainable, green environment to pass from generation to generation. It will also bring prosperity to Urla,” she said.
We, the visitors, relaxed and tipsy, couldn’t have agreed more.
Aegean wine tour:
The Aegean region accounts for 52.7% of all the wine produced in Turkey, with numerous wineries in Izmir, Manisa, Denizli, and Çanakkale. The Izmir district of Urla is also known as a region for wines, with more than 150 hectares devoted to growing grapes and vineyards in Urla alone.
The region boasts numerous types of grapes such as Alicante Bouchet, Boğazkere, Bornova Misketi, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Chardonnay, Çalkarası, Çavuş, Dimrit, Grenache, Kalecik Karası, Karalahna, Kuntra, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvedre, Narince, Öküzgözü, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz (Syrah), Sultaniye, Tempranillo, Vasilaki, and Viognier.
URLA Şarapcılık: Kuşçular Köyü, 8028 Sok, No:12, Ukuf Mevkii, Urla. Tel: (0232) 759 0111. Approximately a 30-minute drive from Izmir city center, Urla Şarapçılık is home to some excellent wines, such as their Tempus red wine and their Serendias rose wines. For those wishing to stay the night as they sip the local production, Urla also offers two rooms at their wineries. If you want to sample a great lunch alongside their wines, go to the old port of İskele in Urla. See the list of the restaurants in Urla to find what you like.
URLICE: İçmeler Mah, 1168 Sokak, No 7, Urla ¬Tel: (0533) 466 9268. A 30-minute drive from the center of Izmir, Urlice is a small boutique winery. Its vineyard, featuring a tasting house and wine cellar, are open to visitors on week¬ends, but call before arriving.
SEVILEN: İsabey Winery and Restaurant: Gölcükler Mah, İstasyon Mevkii, 901 Sok. No:38, Menderes, Tel: (0232) 782 4959. Roughly 10 minutes from Izmir International Airport, Adnan Menderes, the beautiful winery of Sevilen features a courtyard/garden under the shade of trees as well as a restaurant to enjoy lunch and dinner together with nice wines (although no beer is sold). Try their 900 Cabernet Sauvignon and 900 Pink Fume.
LA WINES: Kuşçuburun Mah, Yazıbaşı Beldesi 4, Torbalı. Tel: (0212) 318 0077. From Izmir, take the old Aydın Road via Torbali to LA Wines, approximately 45 minutes from Izmir city center. LA stands for Lucien Arkas, who has vastly improved the quality of the premises’ wines since he bought the vineyard from Idol in 2010. Sample their Chardonnay / Chenin Blanc blend Mon Rêve and their Consensus wines.
YEDI BILGELER: Döltenalti Mevkii, Çamlik, Selçuk. Tel: (0232) 894 8257. Yedi Bilgeler is located just 10 minutes from the main lower gate for Ephesus or 500 meters from the Steam Train Museum. A facility with several rooms in a¬ boutique hotel, Yedi Bilgeler offers lunch inside or on their beautiful terrace overlooking the vineyards. Try their Thales and Bias red wines, as well as their rose wine.
YAZGAN: 7093 Sokak No:7 Pınarbaşı – İzmir Tel: (0232) 479 11 35. Further away than the other wineries, Yazgan is situated about 90 minutes from Izmir center.
USCA Şarapçılık: 8033 Sok, No:1; Kuşçular Köyü, Urla. Tel: (0232) 759 0099. USCA is smaller than its competitors in Urla, but it also has nice wines.
MOZAİK Şarapçılık: In Urla.
KAV Şarap Butiği: Talat Paşa Bulvari, No:12A, Alsancak, Izmir. Tel: 0232 463 53 15 Kav sells all kinds of wines, both Turkish and international.
L.A. Wines Shop: 1381 İtalya Sok, No:22/B, Necip Bey Apartmanı, Alsancak. Tel: (0232) 502 28 88
KAVAKLIDERE Winery: Güzelhisar Mah. Çankırı Bulvarı No:80 06750 Akyurt/Ankara Tel: 90 312 847 5073 One of Turkey's leading wine producers.. Founded in 1929, their vineyards are located in Ankara¬’s Akyurt district, Gülşehir in Cappadocia and along the Aegean. Try their Egeo (red and white), as well as their Lal rose.
Other Aegean Wineries: Corvus, Foca Tasköy, Foca Karasi, Akberg Wines, Yucel Wines, Talay, Camlibag, Selendi, Pasaeli, Prodom, Likya
In General: Wines in Turkey:
Turkish wines are improving day by day. There are seven regions of Turkey that produce wine:
Around Diyarbakır: This region accounts for 3.4% of all wine produced in Turkey, using the Boğazkere grape variety.
Around Tokat and Malatya. This region accounts for 14.7% of all the wine produced in Turkey with the Boğazkere, Narince, and Öküzgözü grape varieties.
Around Ankara and Uşak. This region accounts for 3.3% of all the wine produced in Turkey with Boğazkere, Kalecik Karası, Öküzgözü, and Shiraz (Syrah) grapes.
Around Nevşehir. This region accounts for 12.1% of all the wine produced in Turkey made using Chardonnay, Dimrit, Emir, Kalecik Karası, Malbec, Narince, Öküzgözü, Sauvignon Blanc, and Tempranillo grapes.
Around Elmalı. Accounting for 0.2% of all the wine produced in Turkey, the Elmalı region makes use of Boğazkere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Kalecik Karası, Malbec, Merlot, Öküzgözü, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Shiraz (Syrah) grapes.
Around Izmir, Manisa, Denizli, Çanakkale. This region accounts for 52.7% of all the wine produced in Turkey with Alicante Bouchet, Boğazkere, Bornova Misketi, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Chardonnay, Çalkarası, Çavuş, Dimrit, Grenache, Kalecik Karası, Karalahna, Kuntra, Malbec,Merlot, Mourvedre, Narince, Öküzgözü, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz (Syrah), Sultaniye, Tempranillo, Vasilaki, and Viognier grapes.
Around Edirne, Tekirdağ, Adapazarı. Producing 13.6% of Turkey’s wines, the region uses Adakarası, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cinsault, Gamay, Kalecik Karası, Merlot, Papazkarası, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, Shiraz (Syrah), and Viognier grapes.