Délvidék Part 1.

Winemakers of the distant south: Ernő Sagmeister and Oszkár Maurer

In the first part of our writing about the wines of the exciting sounding Délvidék (lit. Southern territories), we’re now introducing two winemakers from Szerémség (Syrmia), and next time a South Csongrád winery.

“We are met by a great misfortune now, Syrmia has fallen and we have to drink Tokaj wine.” 

– stated Vladislaus II of Hungary when the region fell into the hands of the Turks. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine today that for centuries – from the founding of the state until the late Middle-Ages – Szerémség was much more highly valued than any other of our wine regions. Unfortunately, at the end of the 1800s, phylloxera didn’t spare this region either and even though lots of plantations were replaced, it never regained its influence as a wine region. It became better known for its agriculture, flora and fauna and was also regarded as the pantry of the country. 

For a long time after it lost its former glory, there was no quality winemaking in the region. However, it appears to have been going through a positive change in recent years. New wineries have come into being with exciting wines and dedicated winemakers. Among them, the wines of Ernő Sagmeister and Oszkár Maurer have been a success in our selection, so we recently visited them and brought back one new wine from each of them. 



"The emphasis is on Furmint and Kadarka"
Ernő Sagmeister


We started the interview under the pine trees of the Fruska Gora (Tarcal in Hungarian) National Park and continued it in the vineyard with Ernő Sagmeister, whose ancestors made wine in Vojvodina. His father didn’t continue the tradition and Ernő, as an architect, only started to make wine for close friends and family in the 90s. Eventually, he became so much involved in it that an old friend of his, dancer-choreographer József Nagy, suggested that they should make wine “seriously”. They bought a plot in Szerémség and in 2009 established the tiny winery. Ernő learnt grape growing and winemaking studiously from books: “I have almost all the books that deal with winemaking.”

Today, he manages the winery with Dr Krisztián Dukay. Their parcels lie in the Nyárád and Ürög vineyards, 140 kilometres south of where Ernő lives in Magyarkanizsa. The site is steep, the soil is plain stone, ultramafic and sea alluvial, and it doesn’t hold water well. In drought conditions, the new plantations require irrigation. “This year in July there was 25mm of rain, 12mm in August and 18mm in September – shaken by a bit of hail, but not mixed.” The winery doesn’t use any herbicides or pesticides, instead they hoe four times a year. This year, they decreased the yield per vine to 800 grams, and low yields are a given on all the six hectares. Now they think that they should leave the old bush vine cultivation for certain varieties behind and change to low cordon training, since even the damage of wild animals can be avoided better and the grapes can give a more concentrated wine. The wines ferment spontaneously and are bottled in the most natural way possible with a little sulphur following a rough filtering.

For Ernő, Kadarka is not just one of the many red wine grapes, and the main emphasis is placed on this variety, as well as on Furmint. “Only Furmint can really show what the vineyard has in store – we brought back grafts from Tokaj’s Tarcal to the Tarcal Hill here – but the aim is that Kadarka should also be the best. There aren’t many people who make it their flagship wine because it’s hard to work with, but we try to get the maximum out of it. We work with numerous new and old clones in three vineyards, in the Dévás, the Kő and the Kányás, and almost every vine is different. I would like to show these two varieties as single vineyard wines.” 



“One has to adjust to the rhythm of the vintage”
Oszkár Maurer


Oszkár’s Maurer’s grandfather was also a winemaker, who in the 1920s made the region’s first sparkling wine. Oszkár, who has been making wine since 1994, also plans to make sparkling wine. His cellar is in Hajdújárás, where his family home is. Out of the vineyards, 10 hectares are in Szerémség and five are in the South Csongrád wine region. The larger Szerémség estate boasts 100-year-old vines: there’s more than 90-year-old Kövidinka and Bakator planted in 1909, and Kadarka planted in 1880, with such old vines a rarity the world over. There’s only manual labour with these vines and the machines are replaced by horses.

 The Maurers ferment the wines spontaneously and the use of sulphur is close to zero. The majority of the wines are fermented and aged in barrels, while their red wines are bottled unfiltered and unfined. The emphasis is on naturalness, “because that’s how one can stay authentic and show the place where the grapes grow,” said the winemaker, defining his approach. “One has to learn to think together with the wine and take up the rhythm of the vintage. We are more organic than organic because life has to be there in quality wine. The plants that grow in the vineyard also have an important role to play as they provide useful nutrients for the soil that the grapes need. For me, the essence of natural wine is that the grapes should exist in their natural surroundings with minimal human intervention. We should only get involved if there is great trouble.”