According to Wikipedia, Serendipity means a ‘happy accident’ or ‘pleasant surprise’. I think it’s about being in the right place at the right time or under the right circumstances and good things will come to you. Wine can be a pleasant surprise and I’m sure there are plenty of winemakers who have stories about a wine that turned out to be a happy accident. Prior to visiting Turkey for the EWBC I had already tasted a few Turkish wines and realised they could make some pretty decent stuff. But having been immersed (not quite literally) in the wines of Turkey for a few days the country has proven itself to be a very pleasant surprise.
After a few intense days of workshops, speeches and tasting countless wines, many with unpronounceable names, we were let off our leashes and released into the wilds of Izmir’s countryside. It was refreshing to feel the wind in your hair and the first winery we visited gave me an instant holiday feel. It is a small, but perfectly formed boutique winery and the owners couldn’t have been more welcoming. It’s the kind of place you feel at home immediately. Reha and Bilge Bengisu Öğünlü are a Turkish couple who lived in America for a while before deciding to settle back in Turkey and make wine. Reha’s twitter bio reads “wine, vineyards, guitars, windsurfing, cooking, slowfood, travelling” and he comes across as thoughtful and well-travelled. The kind of guy Billy Connolly would call ‘windswept and interesting’.
Our first taste is of a local version of Muscat. It is fresh, dry and racy and just what we need to wake us up. None of us had much sleep I suspect, as the visit comes hot on the heels of a sumptuous gala dinner and party the previous night. Spittoons are nowhere to be seen so needs must, but it’s no punishment, particularly as the sun is out and we are amongst the vines.
The winery itself is tiny and we cram ourselves in-between the fermentation tanks and into the small barrel cellar. It’s a romantic place, dimly lit, with barely enough room for a dozen or so barrels and lined on either side with bottle bins filled with the maturing wines. I think this is the kind of place most people have in mind when they think about a lifestyle business, a romantic notion of winemaking, away from the stresses and strains of life. The ‘when we win the lottery’ kind of place. The whole production is around 1000 cases with still a little room to grow.
Inside we taste more wines, a range of red wines made from international varieties. Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular. Urlice is a member of the ‘Slow Food’ movement and grape growing techniques hark back to ancient times without recourse to chemicals. Reha’s vineyards are not certified organic though. It isn’t about the marketing for him, he sees it more as a way of life rather than a label to stick on a bottle. The wines are actually very accomplished. They certainly aren’t shy. Structured wines with quite a bit of tannin means they show best with some hearty food and they have put on quite a spread for us. I particularly liked their Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah Reserve, which has a wonderful richness to it.
Serendipity has another surprise in store for us. Macit, who is our guide for the day, was meant to take a trip out to Ephesus but was moved onto our outing at the last minute. Fortunately he likes wine so he’s quite happy. When we arrive at Urlice, Macit and Reha look at each other stunned as they recognise each other. They were old friends who lived across from one another in Izmir more than 30 years ago and haven’t seen each other in all that time. It was serendipity that brought them together. Or maybe it was the wine.