Chamlija - the winery of the Thracians

When you're visiting a winery the last thing you do is actually tasting wines. First of all (at least for me) it's meeting the people behind the label. In this case, it was meeting the people of the Strandja - the mountain massif that literally decides the weather in this continental yet surrounded by seas area called Kirklareli. Mustafa Camlica, owner of the Chamlija winery, not only showed us their vineyards and poured their wine, he also opened up the door to the world of the Thracian people - their land and terroir, their traditions and values. Visiting a winery in Turkey is never boring but always something else then what you expect, and isn't it wonderful?

Visiting wineries in Turkey on the Thracian wine route and wine tasting and vineyard tour at Chamlija winery in Kirklareli
Mustafa Camlica leading our way through their Papaskarasi vineyards in Poyrali

What are the values you are looking for when picking a winery to visit? An interesting region, an unknown part of the viticultural world is a must, of course. Besides that, family run wineries are always a top priority as I believe that wineries that pass on land, knowledge, reputation from generation to generation tend to be much more careful in their vineyards, cellars and whole ecosystems of their regions. The Chamlija winery is founded by the Camlica (it reads as 'Chamlija') family. Mustafa Camlica, the founder, runs the winery along with his wife. He is actually the advocate of the wines of Thracia. His brother takes care of the vineyards, his daughter, Irem Camlica, is responsible for marketing and social media. She is an artist and the creator of the super stylish labels of Chamlija.

Chamlija wine tasting and winery visit in Kirklareli on the Trakya wine route in Turkey.
Labels by Irem Camlica

During my visit I tried to understand what is that core characteristic that could describe their winery and it turned out to be precision. Precision down to tiniest detail. Something that reminded me my beloved where it's so normal to know every corner of your vineyard, what's 60, 120, 180 cm under the surface. ⠀ This is why Burgundy became Burgundy because locals from generation to generation were aiming to know everything about their vineyards, recording the data and creating wine libraries with all the vintages - to open every now and then to examine what’s going on in the wine.

Precision down to the tiniest detail.

And this is why it’s so natural that a winery that aims for precision created their R&D project to collect data on so diverse yet so unknown terroirs of Thrace region. Most of the wines are kept for the Chamlija library to learn and draw conclusions for the next generations about the viticultural heritage of their native land. When I first saw the Chamlija Terroir Serisi in a wine shop I thought what a great name, simple and to the point describing perfectly well what's in the bottle. Their Terroir Series is what made me ask for a visit.

Sustainable viticulture in Turkey

Narince vineyard of Chamlija in Kirklareli on the Thracian wine route in Turkey
Nothing artificial goes into the soil here and the grass cover remains intact being a home to huge biodiversity

Caring about the terroir expression automatically means keeping the land healthy. It just can't be done any other way as conventional viticulture exhausts the soil, kills all the microbial life in it and poisons the whole ecosystem around. Theoretically, Chamlija could have been certified organic, practically - as a new winery with young vineyards they don't have the resources to dive into a certification. They're not using any synthetical fertilizers or pesticides, and don't use any herbicides at all - the beautiful grass cover remains intact on their vineyards and helps achieving plenty of things:

  • good drainage - grass thrives on rain, grapevines - not.

  • home to countless insects - nature loves balance, and if there's a diversity of insects on your vineyard it's less likely that the harmful pests will multiply in a quantity that can affect the vines.

  • feeding the soil - some types of weed enrich the soil with valuable compounds, for example, mustard and beans fill the soil with nitrogen.

  • creating humus in soil - humus is the organic matter formed by leaf litter (dead plants), it helps avoid natural compression of soil and increases aeration (which is so good for wine roots!).

Today they're certified locally under the 'Iyi Tarim Uygulamalari' program - a Turkish certification that translates as 'good agricultural practices'. This means that their wine production does not harm the environment, human and animal health, they are protecting natural resources of the area, ensuring traceability and sustainability in agriculture. By the way the family has a big plan - building an underground winery in a hill to benefit from natural cooling and reduce energy use. I'd love to come back when this project is complete too.

The terroir of Trakya

I saw much more then I expected! Old mountain ranges always create a caleidoscope of terroirs - different altitudes, sun exposures, winds, soils. Every single vineyard is unique and impossible to replicate anywhere else. Mustafa Camlica showed us lands covered with limestone full of fossils (ancient seabed here), various sized quartz stones - rocks to pebbles (an ancient riverbed where a super strong stream would carry quartz down from the mountains), terra rossa clay (limestone that got all the calcium weathered out and remained as iron rich clay). Locations with marl, sand, gravel. Vineyards 10-15 min ride from each other yet so different as if they were in opposite ends of the country.

winery visit and tasting Turkish wines on the Thracian wine route at Chamlija winery
Chamlija's Chardonnay vineyard - land covered with limestone and the Strandja Massif on the background

The main character of this story is of course the Strandja Massif - a 200 km mountain belt between Turkey and Bulgaria, inhabited in the ancient times by the Thracians. Situated between three seas - Black Sea, Marmara Sea and Aegean Sea, this massif defines the level of their influences. The winds, rainfall, humidity is all dependent on this mountain range. As a result, a purely continental climate yet so close to the seas. The limestones on the massif indicate that this area was once covered by the sea. In simple words, you can find lots of ancient oysters in the local vineyards generously covered by limestone. Something that you can observe in places like Chablis. To express this diversity of terroirs created by the Strandja Massif all Chamlija's vineyards are densely planted (up to 10 000 vines per hectare - which is more dense then in Champagne!) and dry farmed without any irrigation. Vines that compete for nutrients grow deeper roots, therefore are more disease and drought resistant, and feed deep right from the bedrock.

winery visit and tasting Turkish wines on the Thracian wine route at Chamlija winery
Poyrali Duzdag Pinot Noir vineyard and up on the hill - Kartalkaya vineyard with Riesling.

The diversity of soils around us

What you see below is not just a forest pic - it's a perfect example of how layered the soil here is. Rich and fertile top layer is very thin, afterwards it's all marl or actually, bentonite - the impure clay which is used for clarifying wine by bounding particles in it.

What you see above is not just a forest pic - it's a perfect example of how layered the soil is. Rich and fertile top layer is very thin, afterwards it's all marl or actually, bentonite - the impure clay which is used for clarifying wine by bounding particles in it.
Bentonite soil in Kirklareli can be used for wine or pekmez clarification

Locals use this bentonite soil to clarify pekmez - this area is actually the homeland of this molasses-like syrup that is blended with tahini and consumed within the traditional Turkish breakfast. Pekmez can be made of grapes, plums, carob, mulberry etc.

Fossilized oyster shells - in Chablis and in Trakya

Fossilized oysters found in Trakya Turkey on Chamlija's vineyards during a wine tasting tour
An ancient oyster that kept its' shape so well over millions of years in the soils of Trakya

This stone is actually a fossilized oyster shell - preserved remains of an ancient mollusk.

These are millions years old. This oyster fossil and many more are found on Chamlija's limestone rich vineyards of Akoren.

The presence of these petrified oysters indicates that once there was an ancient sea bed where vines grow today.

Petrified trees

Petrified trees found in Turkey in Trakya on the Thracian wine route during a wine tasting visit to Chamlija winery
Petrified trees from the Chamlija vineyards

You always learn something new, especially if your 'wine guide' is Mustafa Camlica - someone who must know his terroir to the tiniest details without any exception.

So here for the first time in life I saw petrified trees. These, millions of years ago, were fallen trees that were carried down by rivers and buried in mud, then layered with lots of other sediments and soil. With time the minerals crystallise within the wood and form these kind of 'stone trees'.

These could also form during volcanic eruptions when trees would be buried under lava and ash.

The traditions of the Thracians

Hanging a martenitsa on a vineyard according to the Baba Matka tradition in Turkey, in Kirklareli during a wine tasting tour to the Trakya wine route.
Baba Marta tradition is still alive here

But the terroir is never only stones and soil. It's a union of a human and his surrounding nature. So stepping on this land our thoughts went back to times when this area was inhabited by the Thracians. Thracians are the people that inhabited South Eastern Europe, what we call now the Balkans. Many of them keep their beautiful traditions even today - whether they’re in Turkey, Bulgaria, Northern Macedonia or Romania. Actually, March is a special month for the Thracians, the moment when winter is being chased away and spring is welcomed. Every culture has their rituals related to end of winter, the Thracians (and the Camlica too :)) have the Baba Marta Day.

the terroir is a union of a human and his surrounding nature

Named after Baba Marta - Grandma March (from Bulgarian), it describes a grumpy old lady with frequent mood swings. On the 1st of March people put on the “Martenitsa” - wrist bands of red and white woven threads - to ask Baba Marta for mercy. They hope that it will make winter pass and bring spring. They wear this adornment from March 1st until the day they see a stork. ⠀ In our part of world storks are gone for the cold winter time, their return symbolizes that spring has settled in. And how wonderful was to see the first stork of the year standing at Chamlija's Narince vineyard! ⠀ During our visit we were tasting the red wines of Chamlija Terroir Series - the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc wines coming from different plots of Kirklareli. In my upcoming article I'll briefly go through the differences between these neighbouring vineyards and the impact those differences have on the nose and palette.

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