Turkish wine is under threatby Barry Smith / July 18, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
The protests that recently erupted in Turkey have many causes but the discontent is tied to concerns that the government is pushing an increasingly conservative social agenda. One of these concerns is the perceived threat to secular society of a law, approved by the President in June, that restricts the sale of alcohol.
Most advertising of alcoholic drinks is now prohibited; retail sales will be banned after 10pm; and no new alcohol licences will be granted for food and drink outlets located within 100 metres of schools and mosques. Between them, there is one virtually on every corner.
Critics see this as part of a move towards an outright ban on alcohol. Although Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister, insists that he is simply protecting the young from the harmful effects of alcohol, his disapproval is clear. He has declared that yoghurt should be the national drink of Turkey and recently said he could not understand why people drank wine when they could just eat grapes.
Forget the non-drinker’s incomprehension of the higher pleasures of fermented grape juice. More surprising is the fact that Erdogan is Prime Minister of a country that is one of the biggest producers of wine grapes in the world. Quantity is not quality, of course, but the rise of boutique wineries in Turkey reflects a desire to join the world of fine wine, and this is well under way. But winemakers believe their progress is threatened by the new law, worried about advertising their wines online, hosting public wine tasting events and even recommending food and wine pairings.
What would be lost if the development of Turkey’s fine wine industry were suddenly halted? Possibly the transition of the population from drinkers of alcohol to discerning tasters of interesting wines. In the not so distant past, grapes grown in the east of Turkey from the Marmara region were put in trucks and driven hundreds of miles under the blazing sun to large industrial wineries. Nowadays, careful winem…