Awards and citations:

1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Sunday, 18 November 2012

#EWBC: Sunday trip – The vineyards of Izmir

#EWBC12: Ayça - our excellent and informative guide for the day (CRM)

Another early start ... but a great day. We meet Ayça (the moon goddess), our guide for the day, and Selen Giritligil, the export manager for Yazgan Vineyards which we are to visit. To help us remember her name, Ayça gives us the phonetic elements - 'Ay', as in 'eye' and 'cha', as in 'cha, cha, cha'! (But not chacha - a Turkish 'madame'!). We are heading towards Selçuk - visit to a vineyard, visit to the house of The Virgin Mary, then lunch.

As we are driving through Izmir, Ayça gives us some facts and figures to keep us awake and alert! She describes Turkey as a 'secular Muslim country', a phrase we have heard many times this week. There is a sense that this is a political statement, perhaps because of Ataturk Day this week - commemorating the death of Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal) on 10th November 1938. Political commentaries in the local English-language newspaper also confirm rising tensions between Kemalists and the ruling Islamist government.

The ancient name of Izmir, Smyrna, means Amazonian Queen. The first settlement, which dates back 5000 years, was on the hill above the current metropolis. Izmir is now the second largest port (after Istanbul) and the third largest city in Turkey (after Istanbul and Ankara). It is known as 'Pearl of the Aegean' and is the most modern and liberal city in Turkey. Izmir has been the home of many famous figures in history, including Homer and Alexander the Great. There are two parts to Izmir, the old part and what is known as 'the other side'.

Izmir has a reputation for unpredictability, except in the case of the weather it enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year! For the first time in memory, there was some snow last year, sending everyone crazy!

Passing the railway station, Ayça points out that the architecture is not typically Turkish. In fact British railway engineers were invited to Turkey to help design and build the first railway from Izmir to Selcuk. The engineers settled in an area still known as the British quarter.

By now, we are out in the countryside, initially driving through some rugged and thickly forested hills then on to flat agricultural land.

Ayça tells us that people who live on the west coast have the reputation of always looking for an excuse to have a drink. They say, 'Its so cold, let's have a drink.', 'Oh, it's getting dark, let's have a drink.', 'It's the full moon, we should have drink.', ... Not a bad philosophy!

We have reached the old family home of the Yazgan family time for a drink!

#EWBC12: Selen Giritligil, the export manager for Yazgan Vineyards (CRM)

#EWBC12: Didem Yazgan Alemdar, a member of the third generation of the Yazgan family and responsible for marketing (CRM)

#EWBC12: Behice Büyükkörükçür, responsible for the vineyards (CRM)

#EWBC12: Ece Tüzün, a member of the fourth generation of the Yazgan family and responsible for quality control (CRM)

We are greeted warmly by Selen Giritligil, several members of the third and fourth generations of the Yasgan family and Behice Büyükkörükçür who is respnosible for the vineyards. Didem Yazgan Alemdar tells us about her grandparents who had planted the original vineyard. As part of 'the Great Exchange' after the First World War they were forcibly moved from Greece to Anatolia, leaving behind all their possessions. They managed to smuggle out some gold sewn into the hem of a wedding garment which was worn for the journey. 

 #EWBC12: Wedding garment worn by grandmother on the journey from Greece to Anatolia (CRM)

Starting with a few vines planted by grandfather Hüseyin Yazgan, the family now has 300 hectares of vines of their own, organically grown, from which they produce 20% of their production (6.5 to 7 million bottles a year). Behice Büyükkörükçür explained that the rest of the wine is made from grapes bought in from other vineyards. They are working with their growers to maintain quality and to move to more organic methods though, of course, they can't force growers not to use treatments. 

 #EWBC12: Bottle of wine, over 100 years ago, made by grandfather alongside family photograph (CRM)

I tasted four of the Yazgan wines, all from 2011 Mahra White (Sauvignon Blanc/Sultaniye), Emir (Yas Ozüm/Koruyucu), Oküzgözü and Mahra Red (Kalecikkarasi/Syrah). They are all well made wines. My favourite of the four was the Emir which was delightfully fresh with good persistent fruit.

 #EWBC12: Emir 2011 (CRM)

After being treated to tea, coffee and a range of breads and nibbles as well as the swift but interesting tasting, we move on towards Selçuk. This takes us through the Meander valley ­ meandering (origin of the word) through fields of cotton and fruit orchards. This is the centre of Turkey's huge agricultural processing industry. The cotton production is now much reduced and were surprised to learn that Turkey is still the second largest producer in the world, famous, of course, for Turkish towels. The dried fruit and the nut industries have expanded. 85% of the world production of hazelnuts are produced here. Ayça tells us that hazelnut shells have excellent acoustic properties and thousands of tons were used in the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre in London embedded in the ground and in the roof! The region must be a mass of colour in the spring with all the fruit blossom and the pink almond blossom. Another crop is gum mastic. When sun-dried, the resin crystallises and the crystals crushed to make a powder that is used in the making of loukoumi, Turkish Delight. 

 #EWBC12: Selçuk and Meander valley with fields of cotton and fruit trees (CRM)

As we skirt round Selçuk on our way to the House of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana), we catch a view of part of the remains of Ephesus. Ayça points out the parliament building and one of the six public baths. Ephesus is a very extensive site and the best preserved Roman remains known. What has already been excavated is impressive yet it is estimated to be only 50% of the entire city. Ayça explains that the city came to an end in 490 AD following outbreaks of malaria and a devastating earthquake. 

 #EWBC12: Ephesus - remains of parliament building (CRM)

The House of the Virgin Mary is in an attractive spot in the pine trees at the top of Mount Nightingale, at 435m. It is an important pilgrimage site for both Christians and Muslims, one of the few places where Christians and Muslims pray shoulder to shoulder. It was here that Mary is believed to have spent her last days, a belief based on the visions of a German nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, but now accepted by the Vatican. Even now, out of season, it is pretty crowded and, needless to say, has the usual clutch of gift shops and cafes. We wander around, taking in the views and admiring the spring and prayer wall.

 #EWBC12: Church and House of the Virgin Mary (CRM)

 #EWBC12: House of the Virgin Mary prayer wall (CRM)

Next stop is lunch which Selen has organised for us at the Dereli Restaurant in Pamuçak, right on the shore of the Aegean. Time for another drink!

 #EWBC12: Sun, sea, sand and palm trees - good spot for lunch (CRM)

We are joined by Zehra Yazgan, who is in charge of human resources, a large number of staff including those working in the vineyards and those involved in the production side.

 Zehra Yazgan, a member of the third generation of the Yazgan family and responsible for human resources (JB)

As we gaze at the golden sand, palm trees and lapping waves, we feast on grilled fish and a vast array of meze, washed down by copious amounts of Yazgan wine. Then it's back on the bus for a nap and our return journey to Izmir.

 #EWBC12: The spread of delicious meze (CRM)

 #EWBC12: Line-up of Yazgan wines ready for us (CRM)


Gabriellaopaz said...

What exactly makes a Turkish towel than any other?

CRM said...

They are essentially the style of towel we are now accustomed to using in the west - pure cotton with a loop weave. Before they became popular we used flat weave towels. Loop weave towels were (yes, you've guessed!) first made in Turkey, in Bursa to be exact, and introduced to the UK by Henry Christie in the mid 1800s. The luxuriousness of the loop pile proved very popular and, believe it or not, Christie towels are still well known!