Villa Sandahl: From Magic Rain to Cappuccino Oil

2012 September 6, Thursday

Villa Sandahl

Let's not beat around the bush: Christer Sandahl was first struck by a smaller kind of culture shock in Hungary. Yet, what came as a shock to the Swede, turned out to be our good fortune, because it's due to this experience that we now have Villa Sandahl's Badacsony wines.
The whole thing started out from his two loves. Christer Sandahl first fell in love with his future wife, Gunnel, and then he fell for wine on the couple's first trip to France. This was more than 25 years ago, but both loves have turned out to be enduring.
The Sandahls have long been collecting valuable and delicious wines from all around the world. They take part in the work of the "Swedish Wine Society" (Munskänkarna). Ever since 2004, the couple - along with Christer's brother Thord - have been proud winemakers in Badacsony.
"It was Gunnel who introduced me to the world of wines", says Christer.  "I didn't know about good quality wines before we met as I'd grown up in a small Swedish village, and at that time Swedes didn't drink too much wine. However, this has since changed and wine is now very popular back home." For example, the Munskänkarna society has 20,000 members.
"Following our trip to France, my wife and I travelled every year to various well-known wine producing countries, and we happened to come to Badacsony in 1987. In 2004, when we came here looking for a vineyard to buy, I had a feeling of déja vu when the place we looked at seemed so familiar,"
recalls Christer. "When we got home, we checked our photo albums, and it turned out that we had indeed been there before. We even found the bill from the pension. But at that time, it hadn't even occurred to us that we might one day become winemakers there."
How they still could become winemakers in Badacsony was thanks to Christer giving up his IT career, so that he could devote more time to running a business in tandem with his businessman brother. Incidentally, Thord also runs the transport company started by their grandfather back in Sweden. Villa Sandahl was born out of the sacred decision to enter the market with only the best quality wine possible. As a true Scandinavian, Christer is obsessed with quality, and as such he expects the best from everything and everyone. At the beginning it was difficult for the locals to accept his new ideas, his maverick methods and the fact that he's constantly in search of better quality.
"It wasn't easy at first, because the locals didn't believe that we, as outsiders, could also add to the region's development. This was especially since we came from Sweden which can't be said to be famous for wine, while Balaton has been a grape-growing and winemaking region since the time of the Romans. That's when we met Alsatian winemaker Fabien Stirn, who also works with Riesling. He gave us lots of useful advice, and even more, full winemaking recipes. It was a decisive step for us to find our own route. At the time of harvest and processing, I'm always here in person, and I make the most important decisions, even though by now we can gladly say that we have found the people who we can trust and who believe in us."
The secret of Villa Sandahl is that they carry out many crucial steps differently to how people in Hungary usually do them, according to Ambrus Bakó, winemaker at Villa Sandahl. As an example, he mentions whole bunch pressing, taken from Alsace, which decreases the sourness of the wine to the absolute minimum. He also mentions fermentation at very low temperatures - for three, four or five months - for which they use yeast that is not available in Hungary. Selected from a Grand Cru classified Riesling plantation in Alsace, the yeast provides a silent fermentation similar to spontaneous fermentation.
The unorthodox approach is also evident in the names and labels of the wines. 

 Villa Sandahl

The first unusual name was born out of a cultural difference: Christer experienced first hand that he can't do anything in Hungary without his company stamp, thus one of their 2010 wines is called The Stamp and has the actual stamp's print on the label. The idea for the name of Recept (Prescription) came from his brother. On the label, you can see a Swedish prescription with Dr Sandahl's signature and a warning marked on it: "Do not overdose!" The 2011 Magic Rain commemorates genuine magic rain, owing to which the grapes finally ripened and the harvest could then be commenced. Meanwhile, the humorously named Cappucino Oil comes from a tractor driver who, when he looked into the oil tank of a broken down vehicle, described what he saw with these words. Finally, the name of the 2011 Give Me Five bares the name of Thord Sandahl's world champion Bedlington Terrier. As Christer Sandahl puts it: if a wine is excellent, it's permissible for its label to be a bit zany. He also calls it's a "joyful must" that they have to sell their wines at a fairly young age.  
- Leonóra Mörk -