Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pendore Vineyards: Notes from a Grape Harvest

First... I would like to apologize for the "format" problem in the beginning of my post...something happened to the format and I couldn't fix it! I didn't mean to highlight the first few paragraphs! I am still a novice at this since I only started my blog almost 3 months ago!

Dear readers,

It has been a while since my last post - but it has been busy busy!!Between work and a recent trip to the Pendore Vineyards, I haven't had a chance to scratch my head!

I skimmed over this a few times in my previous post, but I am a major wine lover! I don't just like to drink wine, but I love everythng abut the whole process of wine-making, discovering new grapes, blends and developing my palate. I think I have come a long way from the days of drinking literally gallons of Gallo white wine sold in jugs with my landlord Patty on her terrace at our two-story house (she lived downstairs and we rented the upstairs separate apartment in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in the mid 1980s. I would come home from work and find her sitting there waiting for me to chat and gossip while we drank this mildly sweet and not very good quality twist off cap wine!

Afterwards, I started developing my wine knowledge while working at American Express in SE (Service Establishment Sales). We were a very friendly group and hung out at very nice restaurants and I started discovered California wines.

My interest and desire to learn more about wines really took off after I returned to Istanbul in 1995 and became friends with Randy and Figen Mays in 1996. They are the owners of Adco Fine Wines ( and are importers of wines from around the world that are sold all over Turkey and available at most supermarkets, wine shops, restaurants and bars. I never attended professional wine classes, but I have been to countless wine tastings and went on a few trips to wineries in Turkey and France. I have also been a member of the France based Ordre du Mondial since 2009.

But, I can honestly say that the person who really taught me and is still teaching me about wines is my friend Randy! He is extremely knowledgeable about the subject to say the least and an excellent teacher! Thanks Randy!

The main principle to remember is that there is no "right" or "wrong" wine to drink. Everyone has individual tastes and that's the way it should be. As long as a wine has been properly produced and has not gone bad, all wines are good! You just have to find the one that is suitable to your palate.

So, when I received a phone call from my friend Tülin Bozüyük from Kavaklıdere Wines, a major Turkish wine producer to attend a grape harvest at their Pendore Vineyards on September 29-30, I immediately re-arranged my work schedule so that I could attend. Like I mentioned earlier, I had visited many wineries but had never attended a grape harvest.

A grape harvest is the period when the grapes are picked from their vines to start the wine making process. Most grape harvests worldwide are done in September-October, but some - depending on the region, also are conducted in November. Also, these grapes are not the same as the ones we find in supermarkets. Their taste is quite different and the skins harder.

Repeat readers will realize that usually when I right about a specific topic, I also include information on other "side" subjects to give readers a well-rounded post. My purpose is usually not to write about one subject, but also give readers some insight on Istanbul, places I visit in other parts of the Turkey and when appropriate some traditions... so this post will include info on all of these subjects.

My flight to Izmir was scheduled to depart from Istanbul Atatürk International Airport at 11:00am. I arrived at the airport at around 9:30am - I always leave early as traffic in Istanbul is usually very bad and don't want to take any chances - especially when I am trying to catch a flight.

Lately when I travelled around Turkey, I flew business class when I noticed that the price between economy and business wasn't that different for the times I wanted to fly. I think I deserve to treat myself from time to time! The prices at THY (Turkish Airlines - are not set and differ according to the time travelled. So, I entered the airport from the separtate CIP area. But, this time as I was travelling in economy and a guest of Kavaklıdere Wines, I entered the airport from the main domestic terminal.

It has been a while since I was in this terminal and I was pleasantly surprised that the area once you pass the security control was totally revamped and looked great!

First, the eatery managed by BAT had been expanded and totally re-decorated with extra comfortable seating areas with a lot more selections (sandwiches, salads, hot meals, beverages, etc.) and the prices were lower than before. For example, I had a cup of macchiatto - in a porcelain cup (I hate styrofoam) for only 6,5 TL! Airports are usually notorious for high prices, but this price was very reasonable and lower than at most cafes in town. I noticed that most sandwiches (generous sizes) were around 9 TL. But, what really impressed me was an area that BAT set up, called "Tadında Anadolu" (Tastes of Anatolia) where you could purchase all sorts of treats - from regional cheeses, honey, olive oil to soaps and souvenirs (mugs, aprons, etc.). Unfortunately, I was not permitted to take a picture "up close and personal", so I snuck a shot from the side! 

I didn't know who else was going to be on the trip with me and would meet them at the airport in Izmir, was happy to see that we boarded on time, but we were in for a surprise! My 11:00am flight did not depart until almost 11:45am! But, we did have a smooth flight and arrived in Izmir at 12:45pm.

The weather in Izmir was gorgeous - it was about 24 centigrades and lots of sun! The group gathered - around 12 of us and we boarded the bus to start our journey. The group included people that worked in the hotel industry and the Editor and a writer from Karaf Magazine (prepared and distributed every 3 months by Kavaklıdere Wines, but only in Turkish).

Our first stop would be our hotel to check in and unwind before heading to the vineyards for cocktails and dinner in the evening.

The Pendore Vineyards are located between the towns of Salihli and Alaşehir in the province of Manisa, which is about 120 km from the Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport.

The drive to Salihli took about 2 hours and we followed the signs marked "Uşak/Ankara". Normally it wouldn't take this long, but we were in a bus and they can't go as fast as a car, there was construction on the roads and in some areas as we were going through small town and there were lights.

After we left Izmir and started going through the towns (Turgutlu, Ahmetli, etc.), the landscape started getting greener and greener and the road was lined with villagers selling their homemade wares (pickles, olives, etc.) in jars and fruits and vegetables.

 In the small town of Salihli, we stayed at the Hotel Lidya Sardes Thermal & Spa Hotel (, a decent hotel with 44 standard rooms and a number of aparts and suites located on a cliff overlooking the town.

If you are wondering what the attraction about Salihli is, is the fact that it is a few km from the antique ruins of Sardis or Sardes in Turkish a place visited by many tourists from around the world. Sardis was the capital of Lydia, one of the important cities of the Persian Empire, the seat of the pro-consul during the Roman Empire and the metropolis of Lydia during Roman and Byzantine times. You can read up about Sardes if interested from google - I am just giving you a very quick recap.

We were greeted by our hostess Tülin and had a chance to chat with some of the other participants, did our check-in and we were told to be ready at 4:30pm to begin tour of Pendore Vineyards!

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Pendore Vineyards is owned by Kavalıdere Wines, a leading Turkish wine producer and based in Ankara ( Please visit their website for additional info as it would take me a very long time to mention all the wonderful wines they produce, their awards and long history.

The 200 hectare*(495 acre) and 10 year-old Pendore Vineyards is about 25 km from Salihli and reached by following the signs for Alaşehir and turning off the highway at "Mevlütlü Köyü" (Mevlütlü Village). As we started getting closer and closer to the vineyards, the beauty of the landscape was evident. (*oops! In my original post I had written 200 acre when it should have been 200 hectare - sorry!)

Our bus dropped us off at Pendore's facilities and just like Japanese tourists, everyone whipped out their camera and started taking pictures of the beautiful landscape!

After our photo-op, we hoped into Land Rovers to visit our first stop... a hilltop overlooking a major portion of the vineyard for some sparkling wine and fruit.

It was very windy where we were and this was good according to our host and wine expert Levon Bağış, another member of the Kavaklıdere team. He stated that because of the warmer temperatures, the Aegean region is normally not conducive for cultivating grapes, however, since this area is also very windy, it keeps the temperature at the appropriate levels.
Tülin Bozüyük (left), Levon Bağış (right)
We sipped our sparkling wine, enjoyed the view, spoke about wines and wine-making and took tons of pictures before our next and final stop for the evening... the Pendore Bağ Evi (Vineyard House), which was another couple of km away in another part of the vineyards.

The Pendore Vineyard House was built about 3 years ago and is used to host guests visiting the vineyards. They have a very very talented chef and service staff who made sure we had an excellent meal in these lovely surroundings, which beganjust as the sun was setting over the glorious and tranquil valley.

Our meal was accompanied with - of course Pendore Wines! But, first we had a white wine produced by Kavaklıdere wines and ended with a Kavaklıdere sweet wine with our dessert. Only red wines are produced under the Pendore label.

15 types of Turkish and international grapes, 14 of which are used to produce red wine are cultivated at Pendore Vineyards. They are Öküzgözü, Boğazkere, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Merlot, Alicante, Mouvedre, Grenache, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Muscat and Tempranillo. In other words, grapes cultivated at these vineyards are also used to produce wines at Kavaklıdere's other facilities under other labels.

Pendore Wines are currently available as follows: Pendore Öküzgözü (2008), Pendore Boğazkere (2008) and Pendore Syrah (2009) and they were served to us in the order I've listed them.

I don't want to get into the "full bodied", "smooth", alcohol content, etc. info because I am not a wine expert and don't want to turn this into a "technical" post. Suffice to say, I enjoyed all of favorite was the Boğazkere and the Syrah came in second.

Pendore wines are not sold at supermarkets and can only be purchased at wine shops arounds the city (KAV shop, Sensus, Cave, etc.) and the suggested price per bottle is 40-45 TL, which is quite reasonable according to Turkish standards for wines of this quality.

We ate, drank, talked, laughed, watched the stars and got acquainted: the night was a total success!

Our 2nd day at the grape harvest began at 7:30am. We boarded our bus for the trip to the vineyards - this time to pick grapes! Once again, we climbed into the Land Rovers (the bus cannot maneuver the roads) to try our hand at this!

Most of the vines were already picked by local workers, with just a few left. We were each given special scissors and told what to do... that is cut the grapes off the vine close to the stem as much as possible.

Then we placed the grapes we picked into plastic crates to be transported to the facilities for the wine making process to begin. Two notes here, normally grape picking starts much earlier in the morning, but since the weather was cooler in the Aegean region now and the fact that we were just picking for "fun", we arrived at the vineyards much later. Also, the reason the grapes are placed in crates for transport is that they don't get crushed in the truck. If not placed in crates, most of the necessary juices needed to make wine would be lost and spill out in the truck.

Pendore Wine Facilities
After our strenous (!!) grape picking (really it is not easy!), we headed to the Pendore Vineyard House for breakfast - or rather for a typical "köy kahvaltısı" or traditional Turkish "country" breakfast. Köy means "village", but I feel the more appropriate term in english for this feast is "country" which is used in the same way in this context.

Beyaz (white - not feta!), dried apricots and cherry tomatoes cheese

Salami and pastırma (dried beef)

Tulum and Kaşar cheese with walnuts

Kaymak (clotted cream), honey and butter

So, what are the prerequisites of a Turkish country breakfast? Anything and everything fattening! From a selection of breads, savory pastries (börek, poğaça, simit), honey, clotted cream, butter, eggs, all sorts of cheeses, deli meats (salami, pastırma - dried beef, etc.), green and black olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell pepper and of course brewed tea - Turkish style, in tea glasses instead of tea cups!

Now, after a meal like this - move if you can!! Between the lovely meal, fantastic weather and landscape and a minimal amount of sleep from the night before, a nap would have been perfect! I said would but of course it wasn't possible.

Our next and final stop was the Pendore facilities to observe the wine-making process. First, the grapes are processed by a machine to remove the excess stems and then hand sorted to remove other residuals (leaves, etc.) and then from assembly line the juice of the grapes flow directly to the fermentation tanks below right below the assembly line. This is how the Pendore facilities operates, but this does not mean that all wine producers transport the juices of the grape to the fermenation tanks in the same fashion.

Fermentation tanks
The fermentation process usually takes 2-3 weeks and is the most important and complicated process of wine-making. The process is constantly monitored and tested in the labs to attain the required end result. This determines the quality of the wine produced.

Some wines are then aged in barrels before bottling while others may not need to be. For example, the Pendore Boğazkere is not aged in barrels.

We ended our tour of the facility by tasting 2 very very new wines - those prepared with grapes that were picked just 3 weeks ago - a cabernet sauvignon and a syrah.

As I mentioned, the wines were very new, but the quality was quite good, but not yet ready to be bottled or to even determine which brand of Kavaklıdere wine they would wind up becoming... it could be bottled under the Pendore brand or one of the many other flavors of Kavaklıdere!

We said our goodbyes to our hosts Levon and Tülin and departed from the facilites at 12:15pm - arriving at the airport at 2:25pm (we cut it quite short) for our 3:00pm flight back home. The flight left on time and we arrived in Istanbul 45 minutes later. Unfortunately, it took me almost 1 1/2 hours to get home because of the traffic on the E5 highway and the rain - it was pouring in Istanbul!

Thank you Kavaklıdere and thank you Levon and Tülin for a fantastic two days! I had the opportunity to discover some new wines that I had not tried before, picked up some more info on the wine making process and met some new people!

After all this wine talk - it is time for me to pour myself a glass a red wine  (I always prefer red to white - no matter the season or what I am eating - I don't believe in 'strict' rules) - this time a Côte du Rhône, imported by Adco and relax...French wines are still my all time favorite!


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