TBY How would you rate viticulture in Turkey compared to other wine-producing countries in Europe?

Sibel Kutman
Sibel Kutman Oral has been Sales and Marketing Executive and Board Member at Doluca Wine Company since 1998.

How would you rate viticulture in Turkey compared to other wine-producing countries in Europe?

We look at viticulture in terms of its growth rate. Turkey is fifth in the world for production; however, only 2-3% of those grapes are used in wine. The rest is consumed or turned into raisins and exported. We have an excellent environment with a lot of growing potential. In terms of viticulture, Turkey is blessed with land, soil, and farming. Thrace and western Anatolia are very promising areas and are growing in terms of quality.

How would you describe the emergence of Turkey's wine industry over the last century?

The wine industry in Turkey is only 80 years old, but wine making here is ancient. It has existed for years, but it was stalled and restarted again in the 1920s. Serious viticulture investments started in the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, Turkey really began growing grapes in the 1980s, when tourism began to develop, increasing demand. This boosted wine producers, bringing them into a position to invest. During the 1980s, the first facilities and equipment to optimize production quality were introduced into the sector. However, no matter how great your facilities are, if the grape you start with isn't excellent enough there is only so much you can do with it afterwards. In the 1990s investments into viticulture picked up, and we began examining the grapes and learning how to grow and manage them. We started seeing the yields of these investments in 2003 and 2004. Our first viticulture management vineyards started up in 1990, and we are in our 20th year. Turkey is destined to make some great wines one day, but it takes time.

How would you rate the current perception of Turkish wine globally?

We still have a lot of ground to cover. For a long time, France, the US, Chile, South Africa, Spain, and Italy have been the main names in the great wine encyclopedia. Turkey has traditionally been included under the “others" category. However, lately we have been seeing a rise in interest in Turkish wines. The market in the past was small and scattered, but there has been a significant consolidation under the “Wines of Turkey" umbrella, and we are trying to put Turkey on the map. There is a collaborative effort to invest and market ourselves as Turkish wines, with the aim of changing the image of the country. The only missing piece to the puzzle is the government. The sector has not received the same kind of support as the industries in Chile, Australia, or South Africa. Our goal is to make Turkey synonymous with wine. Within the last five to seven years there has been a lot more international attention, and an increase in the number of international wine writers coming to Turkey. It has now been recognized and put in print that a lot has changed in Turkey. Some of the potential has been realized, and there is a lot more potential to exploit.

How have you seen the domestic awareness and appreciation of wine change in recent years?

It has grown in selective communities and metropolitan areas and in the more Westernized parts of Turkey. We don't see an enormous growth in consumption as there was in the mid-1990s. The whole industry was doing well—wine became a status symbol and people became more selective. That trend is continuing now in narrower areas, despite anti-alcohol efforts in the country. But when you look nationwide our numbers are not growing all that much anymore. Revenues are increasing in terms of the people who are already drinking wine, upgrading to better quality wines, but the growth isn't like what we used to see, especially if you take Turkish tourism out of the equation. Turkey sells about 40% of its wine to tourists. The current difficulties come from many things—high taxation being one of them. Turkey has the highest tax base of all wine-making countries. If you want to apply for a liquor license, it can take up to a year. Without these roadblocks we could lower the cost of wine and make it more available to the general population, and in turn increase the affordability of wine. Despite these challenges, however, we are still conducting business and pushing through.

What are your biggest markets, and in which countries do you see the most potential demand for Doluca wines?

Turkey is our biggest market. Domestic sales account for 85% and 15% is exported. Of that 15% the largest market is Germany for two reasons. First, the biggest population of Turks outside of Turkey is in Germany. Second, over the last 50 years Germany has sent us the largest amount of tourists. Germans are quite familiar with our wines, and you will see Turkish wine in the non-Turkish areas of Germany. Then comes non-wine producing countries such as the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Scandinavian countries. We are also interested in seeing what the growth potential could be in China and the US. In order to grow in all these areas we have to be competitive pricewise, and we still cannot—even though we are tax exempt when exporting—as our production costs are higher than other countries. This is because many of our materials and supplies are imported, as supporting industries simply don't exist in Turkey. We are not producing as much as we can and a lot of it has to do with scale. Therefore, as we can't become a bulk line supplier, the option is to go into the niche markets and target the top restaurants.

You represent the third generation for Doluca wines. What stamp will you leave?

The stamp I want to leave is having put wine into people's daily existence. Wine has traditionally been something people think they need to be trained in, and that puts a lot of people off. We want to break these barriers and have people know that wine is just a drink to enjoy and appreciate. It's a matter of palate, not having to know which grape it was made from. I would also like to see an increase in the quality of wines and more brands offered to increase choice. Lastly, I would love to see Turkish wines better recognized on the world stage.