The Sandringham Company of the British Royal Norfolk regiment landed at Suvla Bay on the Northern Aegean coast of Gallipoli during the Dardanelles Campaign, at what became the site of fierce fighting. Our producer was inspired by this historical bay, with its own special identity, when choosing a brand name.
Selim Zafer Ellialtı is an entrepreneur, having taken part in many different fields of business. After selling his technology company, – his most recent foray – and ending up with a significant amount of capital, he found himself pondering what to do with the rest of his life. In 2003 he decided to leave the IT sector, where products go out of fashion overnight and become obsolete almost as soon as they go on sale, and to move into the field of the earth and wine, as products that will always remain in vogue. He realized that he had to act strategically when entering this business, because the wine business, in his own words, “is the most prestigious way to go bankrupt, if not done correctly …”
So Mr. Ellialtı came up with a plan and prepared a project, but upon realizing that his savings would not be enough of an investment, he decided to continue his professional salaried life and to accumulate more capital. This was how his employment at Microsoft from 2004 to 2011 started, and while he would spend his weeks travelling, he made sure to return to the fields and to work on his vineyard.
After the vineyard grew to reach desired maturity, production of Suvla started in 2010, and the first wines went on sale in 2012. (Make sure to watch Mr. Ellialtı’s TED talk entitled “Evladım Sen Ne İş Yapıyorsun?” in which he talks about the main turning points in his life).
This is not an portrait exclusively of the man of the house, of course, as Pınar Ellialtı Suvla also played a major role in creating the successful brand of today, focusing diligently on the ingredients of the products and overseeing every design detail, from the logos, to the labels and signs. This is the reality of the wine business in Turkey, where it should be considered a noble undertaking. You cannot progress unless the entire family is on board and committed, as “the vine is for the son, and the olives are for the grandchildren”, and this is all the planter of trees gets. Luckily, the Ellialtı family managed to pull it off. They offered us some great wines in the process, but did not stop there, offering also many natural, traditional and in-season products to the market.
Following a warm exchange of messages with Marketing Director Elçin Akinan, whom we have been following with great pleasure, we find ourselves in Suvla in August 2016 for a tour of the Suvla production facilities, where the motto “Wine is Life” rings true. We are welcomed, like everyone else, by Ecem.
Ecem is so friendly and is filled with such life energy that we immediately associate Suvla with her, and already we feel like part of the family. We start our tour of the facility, with our first destination being the production site. As soon as we set foot inside, we meet Ecem’s husband Hikmet, who greets us as like long-lost friends.
The building house the shop and the winery used to be a textile factory, but has undergone extensive renovations to bring it to its current state. Grapes are rolled down under the force of gravity at Suvla, and while wine production is carried out as in a chateau, modern equipment ensures a top-notch, state-of-the-art facility. The cellar housings the barrels is huge and is filled with pleasant fragrances; I feel that this must be what wine aficionados experience in their colorful dreams. We are told that grapes from the same plot are placed in different barrels, and that it is not possible to gain a general idea about a lot by tasting from a single barrel, as each needs to be tasted separately. This is a job that requires a fixation-like dedication, and we are told that the producers have been taking detailed notes since the very first batch ever produced here, forming the kernel of a growing dataset about the wine produced in different parts of the vineyard. Reflections of the initial decision to “do it properly” can be seen at all stages of production.
The time comes for us to try the wines; the sun is shining, the weather is perfect, we are in a great mood, sitting together with Hikmet and Ecem, while Arye hangs out among the greenery. Before moving on to tasting notes, let’s have a look at Suvla’s segmentation:
*Kabatepe, Suvla and Kirte: Young, with predominant fruit flavors, non-barreled or partially barreled, recommended for consumption within 1 year if possible, or 3 years at the most.
*Suvla Reserve: Aged in oak barrels for 3 to 12 months and in bottles for 3 to 6 months, recommended for consumption in 1 to 5 years.
*Suvla Sır and Sur: These are single plot blends; both are balanced, but with different characters. Aged 9 to 12 months in oak barrels and 6 to 9 months after being bottled, recommended to be consumed within 1 to 5 years.
*Suvla Grand Reserve: The King! Put to bed for a nice beauty sleep for 6 to 18 months in oak barrels and for 6 to 24 months in bottles, and recommended to be sipped within 1 to 10 years.
Production at Suvla is based on the scrutiny of the grapes and wines from every harvest, and making constant tastings. The first decision to be made in the selection of the grapes that will give life to the highest segment wine, followed by other series. It should be kept in mind, however, that this classification into segments has nothing to do with the quality of the wine, as all segments produced by proper producers such as Suvla are of high quality.
What makes the difference is the ability to create wines that fit different moods; that is to say, you should not expect to drink Grand Reserve with every dinner; it should be kept for special occasions. On the other hand, Kapatebe’s red, to give an example, is one of our favorites, and we try to keep a stock in the home at all times as a wine that should be preferred for daily drinking.
These classifications are easy to read, but become a little more complicated when it comes to tasting, because at our count there are close to 35 wine varieties at Suvla, some from single grapes and some from blends. My personal opinion is that having so many varieties can be a little confusing. Given a consumer base that is less than well-versed in wine issues, it may not be easy to explain the differences between different series, grapes and varieties.
There is a logic to it, of course. Suvla says you can find a wine to suit every pocket and taste, which is true, by the way – we have tested this! =) Our comments are not meant as a criticism, but rather as the impressions of a consumer.
Let’s talk about the whites, now. Suvla Kınalı Yapıncak is already a firm favorite, with a reasonable price and pleasant taste! (Honestly, I think 2016 harvest is the best Kınalı Yapıncak made so far; it is so good it is hard to put into words). The wines most worthy of praise are the Roussanne, named after the Rhone region of France, and the Reserve de Grand Reserve, a blend of Marsanne grapes, both of which are magnificent (See The Best 10 Local Wines of 2016). In growing these grapes in Turkey for the first time, Suvla has presented a perfect gift to the local wine community.
Our other favorite is Karasakız, which appealed to us in both its Blush and sharp red varieties as pleasantly fruity and easy to drink wines. We cannot praise Suvla enough for focusing on local grapes, which are a source of great happiness. Dimitar Dimov, one of the oenologists, dotes upon the grapes. At the very beginning, after tasting a home-made Karasakız sample that had gone sour, he gave his support by saying there is potential here, and this alone shows how strong his love is. There are many Karasakız projects underway; one of which aims to produce a sweet and sparkling wine from these lovely grapes that should soon hit the market.
Now is the time to look at the two products that have become synonyms with Suvla, and that truly represent its brand – Sur and Sır – which must be tasted and discussed together. Alright, they are both balanced, but one is strong and the other is elegant. Now, match these descriptions with the magnificent reds..
Following this great tour, we stopped by the restaurant opened by Suvla in Kanyon. Located at roof level, this establishment is awash with greenery, and appears like an oasis in the desert. It keeps a team of friendly waiters and a skilled kitchen staff, and we develop a serious crush on their pizza. I have to admit, I occasionally crave their four-cheese pizza with Cabarnet Sauvignon grapes sprinkled on top. During your visit, spoil yourself and make sure to try the naturally sparkling wine they make from Kınalı Yapıncak. They also hold “W Fine Dine” events from time to time, in which emphasis is on matching foods and wines. Click on the link to read an account of the activity that featured İnci Özay Hatipoğlu as the guest chef.
Following the tasting, Mark Sims, the Master of the Vineyards (alright, that was a little too 90s, but just go along with it) joins us. “Hop on the jeep”, he says, “we are going to see the vineyards at Kabatepe, surrounded by pine forests and overlooking the sea”. Yay! A Vineyard Safari! The “Bozokbağ” vineyard, where Suvla’s vines are planted, is named after Ellialtıs’ son, both of which he watches growing together (Hoping for a gift of special wine made from aged vines on Bozok’s 18th birthday, both for him and for ourselves).
Suvla has been implementing best agricultural practices from its very outset, and has now moved on to the next level by obtaining an organic agriculture certificate. The vineyard hosts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Grenache Noir, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne grapes, as well as the local Kınalı Yapıncak and Karasakız grapes.
Mark is one of the most extraordinary people we have ever met, with a pleasant attitude that compels you to hang on his every word. He shows us the newly planted Roussannes, and laughs, saying God knows when we will be able to make wine from them. We continue talking as we tour the area. The growing practices here are very important, as a good wine originates in the vineyard. We learn that planting takes into account such criteria as the angle of the sun, the grape variety and the texture of the planned wine, and so the vineyards are monitored constantly with techniques such as leaf thinning used as needed. Mark works with the belief that there is no single truth in viniculture, claiming that it should be practiced in line with expectations.
As other vineyards in the vicinity use pesticides, insects take refuge at the Suvla vineyard, where organic agriculture is practiced. To deal with the issue, wheat and other plants have been planted in the surrounding areas to attract the insects, thus protecting the vineyard. The vineyards and the areas in which Kilye products are grown are nested within one another, creating a self-balancing context. Looking at some of the bottles of Suvla wines that recently went on sale, you will see a green leaf on their labels, indicating that the wine was made from grapes grown in certified organic vineyards.
Let’s finish this review with the following description of “Terroir” from Suvla’s website:
“Earth, sun, wind, people … These are the essential elements that cause a vine to grow. Bozokbağ is like a ten-year old, looked after by 10s of women from the surrounding villages who continue to come with great loyalty to work in the vineyards, come summer or winter.”
As our dream-like tour comes to an end, we finally feel how tired we have become. What a day it has been! We promise to meet again as we part with the crew, we couldn’t get enough of their small talk…
Translated from Adım Adım Gurme