Aylin Öney Tan - [email protected]
Rose of the World! That was her name. Gülcihan; when literally translated, “gül,” meaning rose in Turkish, and “cihan” is world. We only met briefly, about two months ago. It was a wine-tasting event in Ankara; her smile was contagious, warm and hugging.
Together with her husband we found ourselves deep in a conversation, when I mentioned about a friend of mine who visited them back in October. She started to tell me about the food she prepared for him, with all the details, the amazing local chickpeas she used in the hummus, the local lamb she slow-cooked in the oven, and so on. She open-heartedly invited me too, which I voluntarily accepted. I wish I could do so now.
Last week, physicist and wine grower Gülcihan Ağaoğlu died at the age of 69.She was the co-founder of the winery Tomurcuk Bağ in Kalecik, near Ankara. Together with her husband Prof. Dr. Sabit Ağaoğlu, she embarked on a wine journey as producers of artisanal wines a decade ago, although her personal journey with wines was a lifetime.
I hardly knew them in person, but I knew their wine by heart - actually I was a fan of it, and admirer of their efforts in reviving the legendary indigenous grape Kalecik Karası.
Years ago, when they were at the start of their courageous attempt in making all natural wines, I had the chance to visit their place; but she was away, so I was not as lucky as my friend Serhat Narsap, a passionate follower of natural wines worldwide, and a keen supporter of small wineries in Turkey, trying to find a niche market for them in the U.K. So I leave the words to Serhat to tell their story:
“I have had the honor to visit the winery in October 2016. Our vertical tasting from the first vintage of 2009 to last 2014 was spectacular. I was impressed to see how Kalecik Karası can age beautifully. I was very lucky to have been invited to a delicious lunch all prepared by Gülcihan.
The wine was beautifully paired with slow baked lamb tandoor. She also prepared hummus with the world famous chickpeas of the region. Her story was as interesting as her dishes.
Gülcihan was born in Verona, Italy in 1947 to a migrant family from Crimea. While growing up in a modern family in a European culture, she was naturally exposed to wine as part of her multi-cultural upbringing from early days. Later on, with her family, she started living in Ankara. A bright student, Gülcihan, studied Physics at the Middle East Technical University.
With her career, this young graduate, a great scientist, was to undersign many energy projects in Turkey and around the world.
It was during her university years when Gülcihan met her husband-to-be Sabit Ağaoğlu who was also a research student in Ankara. Sabit was in the faculty of agriculture, mastering in oenology. Sabit was part of the young committee to research and resurrect the Turkish black grape variety Kalecik Karası in the 1980s. From early days, the young couple had a vision to grow their own vineyard and craft their own wines in the years to come.”
When the couple finally founded their own establishment, they gave the name of their only daughter Tomurcuk to their winery. Tomurcuk means sprout, or blossom, in Turkish, expressing their wish for their wines to blossom in the wine world. Their hope came true within a decade or so; the small vineyard was to produce some of the biggest wines of the region, made with minimum intervention, using indigenous yeast all naturally. It is an extraordinary story in a wine region with one of the longest viticulture history in the world, but yet theirs is an all-new style.
Gülcihan’s lifelong passion for making and sharing great wines with wine lovers led her to participate in wine tasting events to showcase their bottles. She was much loved within the wine industry with her charming personality and the passion she had in the sector.
It was her desire to see their wines meet the wine lovers around the world. It was hidden in her name, meant to be the rose of the world; she surely was the rose of the small wine world in Turkey.
Cork of the Week:
Serhat Narsap talks about the vertical tasting he did with the Agaoğlu couple: “Gülcihan greatly appreciated Turkish food with Turkish wines. I remember her advising that our famous “döner kebab” would go down very well with a glass of Kalecik Karası.
Though I tasted many of the elegant Tomurcuk Bağ wines, it was the Kalecik Karası Trajan 2013 that shined up and was a great match with the lamb tandoor.
This light ruby colored red wine has a pronounced nose with black mulberry, black cheery and raspberry notes. It is a well-balanced red wine with a complex palate and subtle flavors of “kızılcık”, the local cornelian cherry.
As it has prevailed with previous vintages, this bottle can be consumed now or can be aged for several years.
This easy drinking Trajan 2013 can also be enjoyed lightly chilled with or without food.”
Fork of the Week:
It is not only grapes that are special in Kalecik. If you visit the sleepy town, look for its enormous quinces, shining like lantern, they are magnificently fragrant.
Also the local bread is famous, and the walnut rolls known as Kalecik çöreği all owe their taste to the famous local flour Kalecik Unu.