Délvidék Part II.

We’re only a few kilometres from the Hungarian border, but we’re dropping in on another world; the taste and the atmosphere are completely different. In Subotica (Szabadka in Hungarian), the cafes and restaurants are full of people chatting and smoking, even in the early afternoon on a Tuesday. The winery we’re heading to bears the name of a Bunjevci folk singer, the winemaker is Bosnian, the founding family and the estate manager are Hungarian, and all are in Serbia, more precisely in Vojvodina, which was once the monarchy’s favourite holiday destination, next to Lake Palic. The winery is located in a recently built, 5,800 square metre castle. We could envision a new Kusturica film were the huge cellar not replete with perfect, ultra-modern technology, French and Hungarian barrels and great wines, out of which three have now made it into our selection.

Why exactly Zvonko Bogdan?

In the cellar, the mixture of former-Yugoslavian-Hungarian-Gipsy music plays, while in the winery’s brochures, as well as on the walls of the nearby guesthouse, an older gentleman smiles. (In the latest ones with a glass of wine in hand, in the older ones, in the ring of eight tambourine men, or as he shakes hands with Tito). He’s Zvonko Bogdan, the singer and tambourine man known everywhere in the former Yugoslavia. “He’s visited the estate at times, he really enjoyed being here, but he didn’t take part in the running of the winery,” say the winery’s real masters honestly. They are the Subotica restaurant owner and businessman, Lajos Csákány, and his son, Andor. The reason why we gave Zvonko’s name to the winery is that everybody still loves him up till today, and he’s a big thing around here. It helps that the winery’s name sounds good to Hungarians, Serbs, Croatians, Bosnians and all the other people around here.”

  

“But the main thing is that the wines should be good,”

– adds the owner, who had been working in the catering business since he was 15, yet he didn’t drink wine until he was 40. Then a wine-loving friend of his persuaded him to make wine with him. It was hardly more than 10 years ago when the planting and construction started. Lajos Csákány first thought about 10 hectares, and that the wines would be good in his restaurant in Subotica, and at home, because by that time, he also liked wine. The vineyard area then grew to 40 hectares, and in 2008 they made their first wine, with 20,000 bottles first time around. They doubled the number the second year. “We realised that it’s a lot more than a hobby for us… but it’s not yet a business. A Bordeaux winemaker acquaintance once told me that you can’t call yourself a winemaker until you have been making wine for at least 10 years. It’s time for me to call him: now we are winemakers as well!” laughs the elder Csákány.

 

 

“We plan to have serious yield control”

Andor Csákány, the current manager of the estate, moved back from New York after 12 years (of studying and being a broker) to assist his father. When he returned in 2012, he started working as a financial advisor but it soon turned out that running the estate is a full-time job. (Although, even today, he commutes between the winery, his wine bars in Belgrade and his family in Budapest).

“I’m in charge of marketing and sales, and Serdjan is in charge of winemaking. The Serbian market is not large, people mainly drink beer and rakia (fruit brandy). However, wine is becoming popular, too. At our place, 50,000 bottles were made this year. We would like to make more of the premium wines. We plan to have fewer grapes and more serious yield control in the near future. The plan is that every restaurant should have some of the classic wines, and we would also like to export the premium wines, first to Hungary and Montenegro. At the beginning, we worked with very good winemakers, but as ‘flying winemakers’ they only spent a couple of days each month at the winery. Our first winemaker was Thomas Ziegler, hence the German clones. He was followed by Michael Acker (the former Formula 1 driver, Ralf Schumacher’s private winemaker), then the Frenchman Florent Duncaneu, who is still our advisor today. Serdjan, who also used to be an advisor earlier but longed to settle down, is finally here with us and he sees his future here.”

 

One exciting experiment by the winemaker is the use of various yeasts

The young winemaker, Serdjan Lukajic, and his family escaped from Bosnia to Serbia during the Yugoslav Wars, he studied oenology at Novi Sad University, and arrived at the Zvonko Bogdan winery a year and a half ago. While we were talking, a flock of starlings hovered above the Cabernet Sauvignon plantations around the estate like a huge cloud. The grape workers were scaring the birds away with a large aluminium gong. “There’s only one day left for us to worry about them, we’re harvesting tomorrow…” They’d already picked the Merlot and the Cabernet, while grass and dandelions grew among the rows. They planted these to reduce the overgrowth of the grapes, which is inclined to happen in the rich, warm, wet soil. “As the plot is flat, the moisture remains. This makes organic cultivation impossible. But that’s not the aim, but rather to make the best possible wines in the given circumstances here.” One of the exciting experiments of the winemaker is that he works with 35 different kinds of yeasts. We learn this in the huge cellar that hides 300 new (Hungarian, French and American) oak barrels, in which the mysterious chalk signs on the barrels indicate the yeast type. “It’s an exciting game for one barrel, however, the main point of the yeast experiments is that they help us to play it safe and ultimately use the best.”