Every journey begins with frenzied activity on my part, especially if I am not going to return home within the same day. “Do we have Arye’s water, food and things?” “Are all the doors and windows closed?” “Have we forgotten anything?” These are the questions I wrestle with as I climb into my car, but once the engine starts and we leave the hustle and bustle of Istanbul behind and begin travelling the less crowded roads, all my anxieties fly away like a flock of birds. This time, I am going to a favorite region of mine, to Thrace, where my destination is Vino Dessera in the Ahmetçe Village of Kırklareli.
It is grape harvesting season, and the vines hang heavy with fruit. The weather is very hot as we enter Dönmez Farm, and I can barely catch my breath after parking the car. I leave Arye to run around and to shake off the journey’s languor, and am met by Doğan Dönmez as he comes out of the winery, looking tired. He says hi to us, but it is obvious he has much to do. He returns to the winery to attend to production while I take a casual tour of the surroundings, and meet Paco and Süpürge, the farm’s lovely dogs, and pet them thoroughly. I pinch Arye too, so that he doesn’t get jealous. This is a great life indeed; I wish all my days could be like this, petting dogs on a farm in the countryside, but it feels like I am missing something: a glass of wine in my hand. Speak of the devil, Doğan takes a break, and work shifts to a slower pace. We sit down for a chat, and just at that moment I see Doğan’s father Yetkin, his mother and his wife Tuba who are returning from the city center carrying a case of beer. Doğan asks if I would like a cold beer, and I grab one right away, saying it would be just great. I begin to listen to the story of Vino Dessera.
Yetkin tells the story. Having worked as an attorney in Istanbul for many years with a very busy schedule, he says he never lost touch with nature. The next chapter in his life began when, in 2001, upon the birth of his first female daughter, he planted 600 walnut trees on the land that is now the vineyard, saying it could be a nice wedding gift one day. In 2006, it is grapes this time, and Yetkin, who knows about local customs, decides to produce wine. “Wine needs you to put your heart into it; it requires effort; it needs you to leave a trace in the vineyard; if you leave a trace in the vineyard, you get to have a say come harvest time. So Vino Dessera is our word, our efforts, our love,” he says. Over time, he makes a name for himself, and his wine gains fame as the “Attorney’s Wine”, and in 2012, the winery is built.
At that time, Doğan left the corporate life and joined the family business, and they all started working together to grow Vino Dessera. By this time, Vino Dessera has become one the foremost boutique brands in Turkey, and the Dessera Wine Estate, boasting 18 rooms, hosts guests all year round. Calm and quiet, the location offers a perfect escape for Istanbulites. We finish our beers, and continue chatting as we walk toward the dining room of the estate. It is wine time!
I first try a Blanc De Noirs, a white wine made from the red grapes of the 2016 Kalecik Karası harvest. It has an alcohol content of 12.5% and was bottled only 2 months ago. I can feel the lemon and grapefruit flavors in my nose, and the perfect union of fruitiness and acidity linger in my mouth. Its end is moderately long. It really is a magnificent wine. Most of the Kalecik Karası grapes are from their own vineyard, although they also buy from neighboring vineyards. Doğan explains that they experimented with pressing the grapes in bunches for this wine.
Next, we try our second white wine from red, this time from the 2016 Shiraz harvest. The Shiraz retains its spiciness in the nose, while in the mouth, it is the body that stands out. Doğan says that this was the first harvest from which they tried making this sort of wine. I am curious and ask where he comes up with these interesting winemaking ideas. He says he doesn’t like to make conventional wines, and seeks to experiment in everything he does. He says that he particularly enjoys making blended wine, and we even try making a red blend together. It is an interesting experience, as the smallest of differences in ratios produces a great variation in taste. “What Turkish producers need to do is to make clean, proper and drinkable wine. This is what I am trying to achieve,” Doğan says, stating that he would buy grapes from any place, and does not insist on exclusively using the harvest of their own vineyard. In other words, when he finds a high quality wine grape, he does not care where it has come from. He is also of the opinion that, given the advertising ban on alcohol, it is best if the products serve as their own advertisement, and thus pays great attention to the price/quality balance.
In the first 3 years after he started making wine, Doğan had to learn everything on his own, and after much trial and error he hired Xavier Vignon as a consultant, and now works with him. Xavier provides a great deal of support during blending, but production is still Doğan’s responsibility. As the last sample of the afternoon, we taste a Blush made from a blend of the 2016 harvests of Shiraz, Kalecik Karası and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It is exactly as described: a clean and beautiful product. After our brief tasting session, Doğan returns to the winery to check up on the Viogniers that are being pressed. He laughs and says, “This is the first time I am processing this variety of grape; we will see what will come out of it.”
Before we know it, the entire Dönmez family has returned, inviting us and the other guests to join them. We climb into the cars, curious about what will happen next. After a brief ride, we arrive at another, scenic part of the vineyard. Wow, they even have a table here! The half open bottles from the tasting and a plate of cheese are promptly placed on the table. We will watch the sunset and drink wine! What a pleasure. Talk, chat and wine all flow freely. In the meantime, the sun slowly sets, and from the look on people’s shining faces you can tell that everyone is happy.
After this session, I retire to my room to get some rest. I probably do not need to state the obvious, as you must have realized this already, but let me repeat. The Dessera Wine Estate is a dog-friendly facility, which is why I was able to come with Arye. He was free to roam, and we are both very happy.
As it gets dark, I take my seat for dinner, which is served at the single large table around which the Dönmez family and their guests gather in a convivial environment. The soul feasts as well as the body. You get to know nice people and to enjoy the company.
In the meantime, Doğan works the grill with burgers, Turkish butcher’s sausages and vast steaks. My face lights up; they all look delicious! The first wine of the evening is a blend of Xavier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Caladoc from the 2015 harvest. There is not much to say, really, just buy it, drink it, and know that this matches the definition of a good red wine. Xavier is named after Xavier Vignon, the consultant, and while it is not usual for a consultant to name a wine after themselves, it shows just how confident he is in his wine. I have already downed the juicy burgers and the delicious sausages, seasoned with just the right amount of spice. Things couldn’t get better.
The next wine is a VD190, which is hard to miss with its unique plump and short bottle. The wine is a blend of the Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grape harvest of 2015, although the blend of the 190 changes every year. For example, in 2013, it was a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Öküzgözü. I mentioned that Doğan loves blending wines, right?
You may be curious about the origin of the name 190? During his travels in Greece, Doğan tasted a Shiraz sold in a plump and short bottle. He fell in love with the bottle, found its manufacturer and imported it to Turkey. Thinking that this special bottle required a special wine, he created a blend of his best red grapes, but after amassing a total of 3,380 bottles, disaster strikes – the sound of shattering glass is deafening. After assessing the damage, they find 3,190 bottles have been shattered, and only 190 are left. “If we have 190 bottles left”, Doğan says, “Let’s name this series the 190”.
The 190 is a great wine. In Doğan’s words, it has that “saltiness” that is a must in all great wines, meaning that you just cannot get enough of this wine. This is certainly true for the 190, as you are never sated, and wish that the bottle would never end. It leaves a lingering feeling like a kiss on the lips and in the mouth. In short, every sip sends a wave of pleasure radiating throughout your entire body…
It is getting late now, and most of the guests have already retired to their rooms. To me, however, it is in the small hours of the night that the music being played and the stars in the night sky are best enjoyed. Doğan and Tuba place a VinAmoris in front of me, saying they have one last surprise. This wine was Doğan’s gift to his wife Tuba. One day, he approached her out of the blue and said that he would make a wine just for her (You can see the little red hearts flying in every direction now). There are two types of VinAmoris wine on the market, one with a burgundy label and one with a navy blue label. The navy blue is Tuba’s choice, while the burgundy is Doğan’s choice. Amoris means Amour, that is to say, Love. Only 1,400 bottles of this beautiful wine were produced, 150 of which were consumed at Tuba and Doğan’s wedding on July 22, 2017. I can say that the guests were very lucky people indeed!
VinAmoris is a wine with a flowery fragrance that you want to keep drinking, with an extremely long finish. It is an acclamation to love and affection. As the Dessera Wine Estate is organized around pleasure, there is no such thing as a breakfast hour. You can get up at any hour of the day; it doesn’t matter. You ask for your breakfast, and it is prepared, which is a fabulous rule.
I have a delicious breakfast with local cheese and other products from the surrounding villages, but now I must return to Istanbul. I cannot help but wish that I didn’t have to go back, that I could stay in this beautiful place forever. I depart, giving my warmest thanks to the Dönmez family for their hospitality and their great wines.
Translated from Adım Adım Gurme