The Anatolian Wine Industry

Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey, is the peninsula connecting Asia and Europe. Due to its unique location it has often been the home of powerful empires including the Hittites, Phrygian, Greeks, Romans, and the Ottoman Empire. Looking at modern day Anatolia or Turkey it is hard to imagine that this area once possessed a thriving wine industry. But through most of history grape vines and wine flourished here, and only relatively recently has the wine industry suffered a series of setbacks.

Anatolian Wine Industry

Figure 1. Anatolia’s “Vitis Vinifera’s Natural Distribution and Archaeological Discoveries”. Image Source

A Brief History

According to our understanding the Hittites, who lived in Anatolia from 1600 to 1180 BCE, were the first to produce grapes and process them into wine. It appears the Hittites valued wine and used it in religious and social rituals. They also had laws protecting viticulture, and considered vineyard work to be a specialized, skilled job.

The next civilization to live in Anatolia, the Phrygians, also had a thriving wine industry. Wine was considered more of an everyday staple to the Phrygians, where it seemed to be reserved for special events and the wealthier classes in the Hittites Empire. The next people to live in the area were Greeks and the Romans, who were of course famous for their wine production and consumption.

Even in the Ottoman Empire the wine industry continued, although it was mostly controlled by the area’s Christian residents. Occasionally the Ottoman government would enact a prohibition on alcohol and the wine industry would collapse overnight, however these bans were short-lived and the wine industry was able to quickly recover each time. Towards the end of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire attempted to modernize their society, and adopted a greater tolerance to alcohol. This tolerance, along with the phylloxera outbreak in Europe allowed the Ottoman wine industry to flourish. This lasted until yet another prohibition in the 1920’s once again destroyed the wine industry.

Anatolia's Neolithic Period Artwork

Figure 2. The Neolithic Period Artwork in Anatolia. Image Source

The Anatolian Wine Industry Today

Today, Turkey’s wine industry is experiencing a small renaissance, however there is still plenty of work to be done to establish a strong wine industry. While Turkey is the largest producer of grapes in the world very little are turned into wine, the majority are turned into raisins or eaten fresh.

Did You Know: Despite being the largest producer of grapes in the world, there are less than 200 wineries in Turkey.

One of the largest hurdles for the Turkish wine industry is an extremely low domestic consumption. This forces Turkish wineries to focus much of their sales on visiting tourists or the export market. Though exporting their wine can often prove difficult, as Turkish wines are all but unheard of to most of the world’s wine drinkers. In addition to a low domestic consumption, there are tight governmental regulations on marketing alcohol within Turkey, which makes it difficult for new wineries to find clientele within the country. But a growing tourism industry, along with a rise of curious sommeliers around the world who are always on the lookout for new and interesting wines, have helped contribute to this renaissance.

One of the most exciting things about the Turkish wine industry today is the amount of unique, native grape varietals in the country. It is believed there are around 800 hundred different native grape varieties, and the country’s wineries are currently only using less than 50 of these to make wine. Many of these grapes produce delicious, interesting wines that if given the chance could become popular around the world.

Turkey is also home to many difference kinds of microclimates and soil types. This diversity allows the many native grape varieties, along with imported French varietals, to be grown, giving the Turkish wine industry the potential for an incredible amount of diversity in the types of wine that could be produced. Today’s wineries have only scratched the surface of what is possible.

Anatolian Wine Industry

Figure 3. Modern-Day Turkish Wine Regions. Image Source

Anatolia has an older wine history than much of the modern world’s most famous wine countries. Through the Hattite, Phrygians, Greeks, and Roman Empire, and even through parts of the Ottoman Empire wine was an integral part of society. Despite this ancient wine history, Turkey today has a very small wine industry. This is in part due to a very low domestic consumption, strict regulations on marketing alcohol, and difficulties competing in a large world wine market. Despite these challenges, Turkish wine has an amazing amount of potential. A combination of hundreds of unique grape varietals plus a wide variety of microclimates and soil types means that there is plenty of room for growth and improvement.

Also read: Wine Culture in Turkey

 

Want to read more? Try these books!

Hugh Johnson's the Story of Wine A Natural History of Wine

References:

“Anatolia | History, Map, & Facts.” 2019. In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Anatolia.

“Basics: With Millennia of History, Turkish Wine Continues to Evolve | Wine Enthusiast.” n.d. Www.wineenthusiast.com. Accessed October 26, 2023. https://www.wineenthusiast.com/basics/region-rundown/turkish-wine-guide/.

“Wine History in Anatolia.” n.d. Barbaros.com.hk. Accessed October 26, 2023. https://barbaros.com.hk/en/wine-history-in-anatolia.

Categories: Old World, This Day in Wine History | Articles, Wine RegionsTags: , , By Published On: February 18, 2023Last Updated: February 27, 2024

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