In the heart of the Sea of Marmara, the ‘Ada Karası’ (Black of Island[En], Noir des îles[Fr]) grape cultivar embodies the rich history of Avşa Island. Our research delves into the cultivation of Vitis vinifera L. cv. ‘Ada Karası,’ a traditional grape variety thriving in the southwestern part of the Sea of Marmara, specifically on Marmara, Avşa, Ekinlik, and Paşalimanı islands. Currently, this unique cultivar is cultivated exclusively on Avşa Island, covering an area of about 157 km2.
A journey through grape domestication and Anatolian viticulture
The cultivated grapevine, scientifically known as Vitis vinifera ssp. vinifera, has a deep-rooted connection with human history and culture. This grapevine provides essential food in the form of table and raisin grapes and plays a crucial role in winemaking. Scientists have extensively studied its history through disciplines like ampelography, archaeobotany, and historical records to uncover its origins.
Early research suggested that V. vinifera originated around 8000 years ago during the Neolithic agricultural revolution in Western Asia from its wild progenitor, Vitis vinifera ssp. sylvestris (V. sylvestris). Recent genetic studies have brought inconsistent details on grapevine domestication, challenging the idea of a single domestication event. Various theories propose potential domestication centers in the western Mediterranean, Caucasus, and Central Asia.
Demographic inferences complicate the timeline, suggesting population split times between V. vinifera and V. sylvestris dating back 15,000 to 400,000 years ago, pre-dating the widely accepted historical consensus on domestication time. The spread of early domesticates to other parts of Eurasia through undefined migration routes adds ambiguity to the chronological order between table and wine grapevines.
Anatolia, as one of the first regions where vine plant cultivation occurred, showcases various genotypes across its regions. Today, Turkey boasts several suitable agricultural regions for commercial grape, wine, and grape-related product production due to its favorable climate, soil characteristics, and diverse grape varieties. Anatolia has a rich history of winemaking, with civilizations like the Hittites, Phrygians, Persians, Romans, and Byzantines emphasizing its importance. Despite setbacks during the Seljuk and Ottoman periods, wine persisted as a daily staple and an art form. In the modern Turkish Republic, private sector initiatives promoting an agriculture-based economy, including winemaking, face challenges such as social structure, lack of vineyard inventory, and rising costs of foreign agricultural inputs, hindering the industry’s growth.
Our exploration into the grapevine’s journey reveals not only its intricate domestication but also the dynamic evolution of Anatolian viticulture, contributing to the rich tapestry of our historical and cultural heritage.
It can be asserted that the Adakarası cultivar presents opportunities in addressing drought and mitigating the adverse effects of climate conditions that we currently face during the climate crisis. When considered in conjunction with future climate predictions, it is recommended that this variety be “cultivated along the entire coastline, extending beyond its native region, in the Aegean, northern Aegean, Gallipoli Peninsula, and up to the Istanbul border.Serkan Candar
‘Ada Karası’ grape cultivar and Avşa Island
Avşa Island, with a historical tapestry dating back to the Late Chalcolithic Age (4000 BC) and Early Bronze Age (3000 BC), has been known by various names throughout history. The island’s separation from the mainland led to a flourishing community dependent on agriculture, stockbreeding, and fishing. Archaeological remnants reveal Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Bronze Age artifacts, providing insights into its ancient past.
During the Roman period, Avşa Island served as a place of exile, and in the Byzantine era, it became a refuge for monks. The Ottoman Empire, taking control in the 15th century, witnessed the settlement of Turks on the island. Until the population exchange period, Greek and Turkish citizens coexisted, shaping the island’s cultural landscape. Presently, two settlements, Yiğitler and Türkeli, reflect the island’s diverse history.
Yiğitler, formerly known as Arabs, traces its history back to the Arab siege of Byzantium (672-678). It is now home to Thrace immigrant Turks engaged in fishing, agriculture, animal husbandry, and winemaking. Türkeli, primarily inhabited by Turkish immigrants, serves as the main village on the island.
Historically, the island’s economy thrived on winemaking, fishing, masonry, agriculture, and animal husbandry. However, with the rise of tourism in recent years, these traditional livelihoods have faced challenges. The decline in fishing and winemaking, once the primary sources of income until the 1980s, has given way to the evolving landscape of tourism.
Viticulture and winemaking, initially introduced by the Greeks and later adopted by the Turks, have deep roots in the island’s economic and cultural identity. While the dynamics of livelihood have shifted over time, the ‘Ada Karası’ grape cultivar stands as a resilient symbol of Avşa Island’s enduring connection to its historical roots.
Avşa Island’s unique terroir with the exceptional ‘Ada Karası’ grape cultivar
In the dynamic changes of recent years, the terroir of Avşa Island emerges as a crucial factor shaping the adaptation of the ‘Ada Karası’ (Vitis vinifera L.) grape variety. Climate indicators for this unique cultivar highlight its preference for specific conditions, such as low humidity, concurrent northerly and southeastern winds, and high temperatures without humidity during the vegetation period.
An analysis of viticulture climate indicators represents a trend towards higher temperatures and a drier climate in the future. Despite these changes, the ‘Ada Karası’ grape variety displays resilience, adapting to the evolving climate due to its physiological robustness under high light intensity and temperature, along with distinctive leaf morphological characteristics. A deeper understanding of ‘Ada Karası’s’ growing conditions involves exploring the microclimate of Avşa Island. Shaped by factors like topography, vegetation, and human activities, the microclimate provides insights into the unique conditions influencing grape cultivation.
Avşa Island, characterized by flat, treeless hills made of granite with altitudes not exceeding 200 meters, features shores with expansive sandy beaches resulting from soft granite erosion. Vineyard soils, predominantly sandy and loamy, exhibit low salinity and calcareous content, with eroded soft granite forming a light body at an average depth of 60 cm. The slightly to moderately acidic pH levels ensure optimal nutrient uptake for grapevines, and the low organic matter content becomes a distinctive aspect of the soil.
In essence, Avşa Island’s terroir, with its specific climate conditions and unique soil characteristics, not only supports the adaptability of ‘Ada Karası’ but also contributes to the distinctiveness of the grapes grown on this island. As the climate evolves, the resilient nature of this grape variety and the island’s terroir hint at a promising future for Avşa’s winemaking heritage.
The robust grapevine with abundant yield
Renowned for its robust vegetative vigor, the ‘Ada Karası’ (Vitis vinifera L.) grape cultivar stands out as a powerhouse in optimal environmental conditions. This exceptional grape variety not only demonstrates vigorous vegetative growth but also boasts high generative productivity, displaying a penchant for forming continuous clusters.
In comparison to other local Vitis vinifera L. varieties such as ‘Karasakız,’ ‘Papazkarası,’ ‘Yapıncak,’ and ‘Vasilaki,’ widely cultivated in Turkish Thrace, the ‘Ada Karası’ cultivar emerges as a superior and more prolific choice. Its strength and productivity underscore its resilience and potential, making it a standout cultivar in the rich tapestry of Turkish viticulture.
An authentic symphony of aggressive tannins and fresh acidity
In the world of winemaking, the ‘Ada Karası’ grape variety stands out as a unique canvas, creating a distinctive picture with its bold tannins and lively acidity. Reflecting the grape’s inherent characteristics and the terroir it originates from, the total titratable acid in the must slightly exceed the standard, adding to the variety’s individuality.
The slightly elevated tannin levels, compared to typical red wines, result from the interplay of climate, soil, and winemaking techniques. The anthocyanin content aligns with industry standards, while the overall abundance of total phenolic substances can be attributed to the heightened tannin levels.
Moving beyond analytical assessments, sensory evaluations by panelists unveil the unique personality of ‘Ada Karası’ wines. Consistent with the analytical findings, the panelists discern pronounced tannins and acidity in all three samples. Aromatically, notes of black cherry and ripe red fruits dominate the senses, accompanied by hints of spice and sweet spice in wines. Interestingly, woody scents, caramel, banana, and hints of oily cream add complexity to the sensory experience, aligning with compounds identified through aroma activity values in the analytical analyses.
Positioning itself as a potential alternative to native Turkish grape varieties, the ‘Ada Karası’ grape has garnered geographical indication status, underscoring its unique identity. As the application for the geographical indication label for ‘Ada Karası’ wine is underway, the journey to produce top-quality wines from this distinguished cultivar continues. The future holds the promise of further exploration and refinement, shaping ‘Ada Karası’ as a beacon of excellence in the realm of Turkish winemaking.
The Adakarası grape variety offers potential solutions to drought and the worsening effects of the current climate crisis. The study suggests that viticulturists should consider cultivating Adakarası beyond its native region. The recommended expansion areas include the Aegean, Northern Aegean, Gallipoli Peninsula, and areas up to the Istanbul border. This strategy aligns with future climate forecasts, highlighting the variety’s significance in coastal regions.
Candar, S., Alço, T., Uysal, T., Uysal Seçkin, G., Güngör, T. A., Eryılmaz, İ., … & Sezer, G. (2023). Oenological properties and terroir characteristics of an autochthonous grape cultivar: Ada Karası (Vitis vinifera L.). European Food Research and Technology, 249(10), 2595-2610. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00217-023-04317-7