Turkey. The first time I set foot on it was last year at the airport, as I transited in between flights. I wondered how it was like outside, in a country that is known to be bustling with rich culture, history and diversity. It's the meeting point of Asia and Europe and inquisitiveness was engulfing me as I waited for my ongoing flight. I told myself that maybe, in the near future, I will be able to satisfy the myriad of curiosities that are crossing my mind and see for myself how Asia and Europe are bridged together in one place. That "near future" arrived sooner than I hoped because along with this year's Digital Wine Communications Conference 2015 (#dwcc15) in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, there was also a 4-day pre-conference press trip to Istanbul and Thrace in Turkey and that is where I discovered Turkey and its wines.
For four hurried days, our press trip group zoomed from Istanbul to the Thrace and soaked up the culture, history, wine and culinary delights that Turkey stands for. There was barely time to get to know Istanbul but I was able to see the Topkapi Palace, shop at the Spice Bazaar, ride the ferry on the Bosphorus to go to the Asian side of Kadikoy, have a genuine dinner of Anatolian cuisine paired with local beer and wines. You can see the pictures in my Facebook. It was a peek at such a vibrant city embodying diversity and unity at the same time. With the influences of the palace kitchens of different cultures and empires of Hittites, Selijuks, Greeks, Persians, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans, one can't imagine how amazing the gastronomy is. I was enthralled and I think another trip to get to explore more the city is definitely a must.
Our trip to the Thrace was composed of a little bit of sightseeing (what we were able to manage because it was raining so hard) and visiting two wineries, Vinero and Arcadia (another post). Both are fairly young winery hotels (Vinero is opening in early 2016) producing excellent wines, restaurants with superb food to pair them with and spas to relax in. They are perfect luxuriating holiday destinations from Istanbul to get to know Turkey in a relaxing ambiance with superior quality.
Arriving at Vinero Winery from a 4-hour road trip from Istanbul, the hotel and the well-maintained rows of grape vines welcomed our group with a clamoring sight of beautiful modernity that blended with its surroundings. Leaving a very urbanized setting to go through the countryside gave me a different perspective of the country. Turkish countryside is a stark contrast from the vibrancy of Istanbul. It's like going back in time - pleasant, relaxed and simple.
Owned by the Toksoz family, the Vinero project started in 2002 and in 2007, finally, they found the perfect vinegrowing soil coupled with the ideal microclimate with the influence of the sea, forest, winds for growing their grapes. Precisely located in the Gallipoli region, the cooler climate also plays an integral role in the growth of the grapes.
The vineyards are situated in 160 hectares of land, 80% of which are dedicated to four Bordeaux red grape varieties which are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The rest of the area is dedicated to the white grape varieties of Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
With the consultancy of Bordeaux-based oenologist Michel Rolland in 2011 with more than 40 years of experience in vitiviniculture and along with the mastery of Vinero's oenologist Asli Bayhan, an alumna of the University of Bordeaux, Vinero Winery focuses to improve the quality of its wines through their expertise. Traditional wine producing methods are used with the help of modern winemaking technologies to make the quality of wines at its best.
Vinero will be carrying the brand Porta Caeli for their wines. Meaning port to heaven in Latin, the name was inspired by Seckin Pirim's sculpture. After spending a full day in the vineyard and the winery, he declared, I feel like I am in heaven. Then with this inspiration, he created his sculpture which has two sides and depending on the sunlight's angle, it creates a shadow shaped like a wine glass.
Our stay in Vinero Winery Hotel and Spa had been peculiar because it was still closed to the public and it is only scheduled to open at the beginning of 2016. Our press group were the first "clients" to have tried their luxurious rooms, their spas, their still unlabeled wines and their restaurant. Needless to say, we were the very lucky and happy guinea pigs.
Everyday, we converged in the dining room, where the long wooden table was positioned. Around it are sofas, armchairs and a bar. It was a room made for comfort and lounging around. During our stay, the restaurant next to it that's overlooking the garden was still under construction.
The rooms, twenty one in all, are unique from each other. Each room is named after a grape variety, equipped with modern technology, elegantly furnished and quite spacious. As I look around the room, you get the impression that every single detail has been thought of even before you need it. There is a coffee machine, tea facilities, hair dryer, weighing scale, toiletries, fluffy bathrobes and slippers.
With the elegance and superior quality of the rooms, modernity wasn't lost in the hotel rooms too because every single light, TV, music and internet were all controlled with iPads that are provided in each room.
The lower ground level of the hotel is dedicated to the spa and baths. It's a big area connected with a long, lighted corridor that stems to each room. After a day out, it was the place to be and you are even luckier if you get an hour with the masseuse.
The food. Complete luxury doesn't end with the elegance and comfort of the rooms, the wines and the spas. Our Vinero experience came with another grand highlight. Chef Ali Ronay, the Consultant Chef of Vinero, came up with multiple-course meals during our 2-night stay there. Oh, and that included a big spread of breakfast.
We were a group of 13 coming from different countries, with diverse palates, opinions and expectations but whenever we converge on that long wooden dining table, our taste buds speak in one united language. It was an incredible dining experience, more and more each single meal. Using seasonal, fresh and top quality ingredients, Chef Ali created innovative dishes with Turkish roots.
One thing I especially love about his cooking is that you can taste the ingredients that he cooked together because each flavor did not outdo each other, rather, there was a complementary blend to every single one of them. It makes me think of Mediterranean cooking hand in hand with the subtle flavors of Turkey and rejoicing the concepts of Slow Food and Chilometro Zero (in Italy, using the produce from the same area to promote freshness, support of the local farmers and no transport time and expense). Thanks to Chef Ali for all the delightful taste and visual creations you concocted for us.
On the third day, we left before the sun rose but the hotel staff sent us off with breakfast boxes each to eat on the way to our next stop, Arcadia Winery. Hospitality, superior quality and strong commitment are the words that I can find that best describes our stay, the wines and the food in Vinero Winery, Hotel & Spa. A big thank you to everyone who made our stay perfect. As for the wine lovers, do wait for the Porta Caeli labels because you will be in for a pleasant surprise for the quality of wines that Vinero is producing.
We strongly believe that this country, cradle of ancient wine, has potential to produce very high quality wines and we would like to reveal its potential. We aim to be an important representer of quality Turkish Wines all around the world. - Vinero Winery