25th June, 2014 by Richard Ross
New laws in Turkey banning the domestic marketing and promotion of alcohol have forced organisers to cancel an annual Istanbul visit by a panel of MWs.
Since 2010, a group of four MWs has been invited to Istanbul each summer for a weekend of tastings, organised by Turkish wine enthusiast and businessman Yunus Emre Kocabaşoğlu. Turkish producers were asked to present a selection of their best wines which the MWs would taste blind, then score and offer feedback to the producers.
However, this year’s weekend could not take place because of the current political restrictions in place.
The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP Party has its largest support base amongst rural voters and in recent years has begun to promote more clearly Islamic policies despite Turkey’s strong secular traditions. These include a series of moves to restrict the sale and promotion of alcohol.
One of the regular attendees, Sarah Abbott MW, told db that “it is quite right that the sale of alcoholic drinks should be controlled for reasons of public health, but the ban on all marketing of wine is needlessly damaging to the Turkish wine sector.”
The restrictions are gradually being tested by Turkey’s wine community, but current interpretations suggest that the ban applies to all domestic wine advertising, marketing and tasting events. For that reason, the organisers felt obliged to cancel this year’s MW weekend in Istanbul.
Sarah Abbott says that it’s hugely disappointing that they can’t continue to offer their support to winemakers in Istanbul this year “Over the four years we have been taking part in this event, I’ve seen that the quality of wines has really gone sky-high, mostly from a strong base of enthusiastic boutique producers looking to build new markets.”
She adds: “If you’re a wine writer in Turkey today, you can no longer offer wine recommendations, and a group of producers in the region of Thrace, for example – just an hour’s drive from Istanbul -have had to stop marketing their ‘wine route’ to visitors, although they are managing to call it a ‘vineyard route’.”