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Something Happens in Kalecik

The following is Birsen Karaloğlu's views on her trip to Kalecik in July 2003.

Something Happens in Kalecik
Yes, something happens in Kalecik. I spent a Sunday at this old, small district of Ankara last July. I know most of you enjoy the "Kalecik Karası" wine. The best "Kalecik Karası" grapes are grown here because of the characteristics of the soil. It is stated that the same kind of grapes grown in other regions do not have the same quality.

Işıklar Holding, together with a French investor, has been dealing in viniculture and grape growing for four years. They have already organized 100.000 m2 of the land and planted Kalecik Karası grapes on an area of 50.000m2, while five different kinds of French grapes have been planted on the remainder of the land. A small factory has also been operating since 1998. Since they have not yet yielded crops from their vineyards, they use the grapes raised by the villagers to produce wine, and they bottle and market it for 20.000.000 TL/bottle at the moment.

They plan to have a boutique production called "chateau". They grow the grapes in their own vineyards and, after bottling, will offer them to the market. The quantity is small; however, the characteristics such as quality, taste, aroma etc are important. The first wine from their grapes will be produced this year. However, this wine will be not be put onto the market until after a rest of 4-5 years. The existing wines in the tanks are their own production with the grapes of the villagers, and as the wine becomes ready it will be bottled according to the year and will be put onto the market.

Naturally our trip was not limited with this. We also met Ömer Bey, who has been the mayor of Kalecik for 15 years (editor's note: he was not re-elected as the mayor on the March 28th, 2004 local elections). He has been dealing in viniculture since 1990 and has been trying hard and realizing new plans to improve the grape production which decreased during the Ottoman period and to revive the lost tradition of viniculture. To this end, he purchased 300.000 m2 of land from the Treasury on behalf of the Municipality and established a foundation and a company belonging to the foundation. After the infrastructure was completed, the land was divided into parcels of 5.000 m2.

The project was directed towards a group residing in Ankara who, after having earned enough money, prefers to have a more comfortable life. Moreover, some businessmen, foreseeing a new way of making money, have shown interest in the site. Then academics, doctors, dentists, engineers and some tradesmen purchased some parcels. One hundred of the above entrepreneurs have already planted grapes and even have built porches at the entrances to their lands.

Furthermore, permission is given to every parcel to build a 500 m2cottage (bağevi). The owners can either set up their own small wine factory or join the ongoing construction of a wine factory as a partner and use their grapes there.

Some rich investors in Ankara, noticing this development, have been storming the district for two years and have begun to purchase large parcels both from the Foundation and from the villagers. There are some people who have planted grapes on parcels of 400.000 - 700.000 m2. I know well a family from Kayseri; they have prepared an area of 700.000 m2for planting. I am sure that two of the three siblings do not even know what wine tastes like due to their religious beliefs and habits. I was surprised by their involvement in the production of Kalecik Karası. However, the history of Anatolia enlightens me and I remember that the cultures inhabiting in Kayseri and environs dealt with viniculture and produced wine. Even a folk song is called "Gesi Bağları" (Gesi Vineyard), after a district in Kayseri. Even though wine and vineyard culture has descreased in importance, it has survived to this day and now promises a future.

We also learned that Swiss, French and Russian people are trying to negotiate with even the small vineyard owners for joint production. The vineyards are not just a hobby anymore but promise considerable profits. The mayor says, "We will export the wine for US$50 per bottle". Five thousand bottles of wine from 5000 m2 would make an income of US $ 250.000. We found these figures unrealistic. I cannot imagine wine lovers queuing up to pay that price for a wine from a town trying to revitalize its old wine tradition while qualified South American wines are on the market for a more reasonable price. However, the special aroma of Kalecik Karası will enable it to find a place in the market, even at a low price, in a short time. Moreover, we should not disregard the rising demand in the local market; today it is an indicator of prestige to offer and drink Kalecik Karası in our society.

There are still parcels ready -to -be -sold, and the Foundation provides grapevines, workmanship, technical consulting and engineering services to partners.

The population in Kalecik and surrounding villages are somewhat remote from the developments. A few local entrepreneurs have changed their production methods. For example, the smart butcher of the village has already formed a big vineyard on an inherited plot of land just next to the Municipality's parcels. The organization of this 2-year-old vineyard and the quality of the grapevines show that they can compete with the 4-year-old French-Turkish joint venture vineyard.

Kalecik is 45 km. away from Ankara by car; scheduled train, though rare, is also available. You can reach the picnic area on the banks of Kızılırmak River after a 10-minute walk from the vineyards. The Mayor wishes to create an area like Bordeaux and build tennis courts and swimming pools near the river.

Our group spread out to the picnic tables under the trees on the shores of Kızılırmak. We shared the food we had taken along, home-made bread and pastries, and opened the wine we had just bought from the factory. The fresh fruits of the village colored and added taste to our table and we bade the sun farewell from the coast of Kızılırmak.

In the evening, the Mayor said, "I am not going to let you leave before offering you tea at the Municipality Park." A somewhat large area in the middle of Kalecik was arranged as a park. It is a very cozy, charming and functional park with partly-covered picnic areas for families, a modest zoo, cottages with rush roofs where local food is served and duplicates of the white stones of Pamukkale. The towers of a Byzantine citadel were overlooking the park from the nearby rising hill. We postponed a visit to the citadel for another time and drank our freshly brewed tea at this chic and clean café/restaurant of the Municipality.

It was already dark when we left the district, and Kızılırmak was cascading and proudly deserving to be called a "river". I was thinking to myself on the bus during our return trip that I was happy with the developments in Kalecik; however, I was also surprised that the local people had not been attracted to the idea and had not been involved with the progress. The Mayor said, "The villagers usually do not accept innovation before seeing the results; in order to create the first developments, we need sophisticated people."

I strongly suggest you take a one-day escape to this historical district close to Ankara, which offers various alternatives: visiting the vineyards, tasting the wine produced in the factory, purchasing fresh fruit and sipping your tea in the park…

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Something Happens in Kalecik
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