Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s first president, established Turkey’s first commercial winery in 1925, as a symbol of Turkey’s modernisation and Westernisation. However, the irony of this is that archaeological evidence shows us that there was a wine making industry here in Turkey more than 6000 years ago.
For example, wine was a big part of the daily life of the Phrygians, who lived in Anatolia after the Hittites, and it was the Phrygians who introduced wine to Greek colonists in Anatolia’s west. It is believed that by the 6th century BC wine was exported from Turkey to France and Italy from areas in Turkey such as Tavas (near Pamukkale).
Wine production and trade continued even throughout the Ottoman Empire, however this was carried out exclusively by non-Muslims (Greeks, Armenians and others residing in what is now modern day Turkey). During the Ottoman Empire (1299–1923), wine production and trade were carried out exclusively by non-Muslim minorities (Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, and others). Although the industry was sometimes interrupted by periods of prohibition, this was never for long, because the taxes collected through the sales was an important contribution to the Ottoman economy.
The ancient wine industry in Turkey is the reason for the fact that Turkey is home to an estimated 600-1200 different varieties of grapevine today. The industry has seen a rebirth since the 1980s as Turkey’s integration with other economies and an increase in tourism increased the demand for wine. With parts of the country providing good conditions for wine production, many experts are recommending that wine lovers “watch this space” to see the developments in the “re-born” Turkish wine industry over the next few years.
Wine makers in Turkey use a mix of traditional and imported grapes, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonny, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon as well as indigenous grapes such as Öküzgözü, Boğazkere, Kalecik Karasi and Narince.
There are seven wine regions in Turkey. The Thrace Region is home to a number of boutique wineries as well as some more established wineries. It’s proximity to Istanbul makes it easy to access in a day. Fez Travel runs a daily Thrace Winery Tour between April and the end of October – it’s a great option for a day trip before or after a tour or for those doing an Istanbul mini-stay.