The ‘ domesticated grape ‘ ,Vitis vinifera , originated in the Black Sea region, in Caucasia, and in Anatolia ( Asian part of Turkey.) almost 11000 years ago and spread from there to south to the Middle East so that grapevines were being cultivated in Mesopotamia which corresponds in our day to the lands between Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in Turkey, Syria and in Iraq.
The vinifera grape then spread east to Phoenicia and Egypt, and by around 2000 B.C Phoenician sailors were ferrying grapevines across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece and beyond.
In Alacahoyuk in Central Turkey which is a settlement of early Bronze Age golden wine vessels were used by the rulers during the religious ceremonies and they were also considered as burial gifts as early as 2500 B.C.Many of these finds are exhibited today in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.
The Hittites, the most ancient of Indo-European tribes must came into contact with grape and wine in Anatolia. Very close version of Hittite word wiyana- which corresponds to grape and wine, can be found in European languages ; vinum in Latin , vin in French , wein in German and wine in English. In Hittite hieroglyph, there’s a special character attributed to wine and grape. There are also a number of decrees concerning and determining the ownership system in Hittite Laws. From here we see that viniculture played an important role in Hittite economy.
Wine was offered to Gods in Hittite religious ceremonies that were called libations. For these offerings different and beautiful style of cups were used. An official called cupbearer is frequently mentioned in the texts concerning the festival rituals. In Hittite language this person was called ‘Sagi’. These men were the ancient versions of present day sommeliers.
In recent archaeological excavations conducted at Konya-Karahoyuk (Central Turkey) grape seeds and grapevine-shaped clay pots dating back to Hittite Kingdom period (1700 B.C) have been discovered. Again in Hittite period of 1700-1200 B.C Turkey was called ‘Wiyanawanda ‘- land of grapevine- to emphasize the abundance of grape in this country.
We learn from Assyrians who established a powerful kingdom in Northern Mesopotamia between 9th-7th centuries B.C that, there were more than 10 different quality wines produced in the region. King Sargon II also tells us in his diaries about the presence of beautiful vineyards and cellars founded by Urartians in Eastern Turkey around the Lake of Van.
After the fall of Hittite Kingdom the journey of wine continued with the Phrygians who were indigenous people of Anatolia and their capital city Gordion became a wine town.
Wine was introduced to Greeks when they conquered western part of Asia Minor. Greeks who established colonies on Aegean shores played an important role especially in wine trade by transporting it to different regions across the Mediterranean Sea until France and Italy. One of the grapes introduced to Europe was Misket, from Anatolian origin, became called Muscat by Europeans. Again in Greek period some regions in Western Anatolia appeared as the new centers for producing and trading wines. One of these was Tabae ( Tavas-near today’s Pamukkale) , another one was Klazomenai on the Aegean Coast in 6th and 5th centuries B.C, ( Today’s Urla),Ainos ( Enez ) in Northern Aegean region .Knidos , on the South-western shore of Turkey was also the leading center for the wine trade together with the Island of Rhodes . Besides these centers which attracted attention with both the quality and volume of wine trade and production , some islands on Aegean Sea like Chios, Lesvos and Kos also gained importance.
In the ancient city of Teos near Izmir we can find the remains of the largest temple dedicated to Dionysos ( or Bacchus- God of wine ) in the world constructed in Hellenistic period in 3rd century B.C.
Phoceans – people of Aegean Turkey – sailed along the Mediterranean to reach the harbor city of Marseilles in Southern France and introduced the grapevine for the first time to this country in 6th century BC.
The Romans succeeded the Greeks and carried on the tradition of growing grapes and winemaking further. However they changed the name of wine god from Dionysos to Bacchus but they preserved the prestige of this drink by making its consumption even more common.
When the religion changed from a pagan one into monotheist, wine adapted itself perfectly to this new belief system and managed well to preserve its prestigious status. Christianity considered wine more sacred than the previous religions by associating it with the blood of Christ. Therefore especially from 4th C. A.D on, when Christianity was recognized as the official religion of Roman Empire, the production and the consumption of wine displayed a tremendous increase mainly in monasteries and the other religious centers. This period witnessed in Turkey the development of new settlements like Cappadocia- for example, unbelievably beautiful region located in Central Turkey which is still one of the main production centers for wine in present day.
The birth of Islam however was an important factor to slow down this development in spite of the fact that some religious orders called Mevlevi and Bektasi which emerged in Turkey in the 13th century continued to use wine as the holy drink during the rituals although this fact was in contradiction with the religion. Throughout the centuries during the Ottoman Empire period, both the production and the consumption of alcohol and wine especially for the Non Muslim communities did not encounter any serious restriction from the end of 13th until the beginning of 20th centuries.
After the proclamation of Republic of Turkey in 1923 however, with the departure of Greeks from Turkey and their replacement by Muslim Turks there caused a sharp decrease in the production of wine in Turkey.
After a brief period of alcohol prohibition the government of modern Turkey made the first attempts for the revival of wine industry. In late 1920’s the first private wineries were established in Thrace and in Ankara.
In 1928 the government started to support wineries by technical knowhow and partial financial support.By the meantime, the state monopoly TEKEL became engaged in wine production by founding wineries all over the country starting from 1930’s. In 1946 there were 28 small scale wineries all aroun Turkey exploring the potential quality of wine production with different varieties and terroirs under the state monopoly.
Wine production and consumption in Turkey reached peak in 1950’s and 60’s.
With 1980’s Turkey found itself as a big tourist attraction and and the wineries initiated their attempts for improving the quality of wine due to the request by foreign tourists that started to visit the country.
In early 2000’s the State Monopoly TEKEL was privatized and continued its wine and raki production with the name MEY.
2000’s started to write real success stories for Turkish wines with international awards won in several prestigious wine competitions with local and international grape varieties.
By today, there is a total of 140 official producers producing about 110 million liters annually.