Kadarka 2011

While in the former "Greater Hungary" half of all grapes grown, and two-thirds of red grapes, were known as Kadarka, its share today is only approaching one per cent of overall plantings. So why are we still talking about it you may ask? We are pursuing our curiosity since over the last few years we have encountered flashes of brilliance with the “Hungarian Pinot Noir” that put it firmly back in focus. That's why we followed it up, tasted it, and asked for the opinion of a few winemakers.


Kadarka as a “Hungarikum”
Only a few meters away from our Lánchíd shop, this variety covered the side of the Tabán in the 18th Century. Even though it’s not of Hungarian origin, owing to its history and one time popularity, we consider it as a Hungarikum. Kadarka was the everyday drink, grown on bush vines and provided – according to the descriptions of the time – a nice, harmonious, spicy wine. Later, mass production degraded the grape down to table wine quality, but today winemakers are once again seeing its significant potential.
The variety is known by almost as many names as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. Among others, it's called fekete budai (Black Buda) after its place of growth. It’s also known as törökszőlő (Turkish grape) because it was brought to the country by the Rascians who were fleeing present day Serbia due the Turkish invasion. Another one is Skadarka, maybe because the Slavs love consonants.
Kadarka can also come in several variations. Thus, based on the shape of the leaves, flowers and fruit, its nicer forms have long been differentiated as noble, cross, fig-leafed and star-flowered. Meanwhile, its inferior forms have been described as crazy, silly and flat-footed, among other pejoratives.
Kadarka’s place of origin is thought to be the Mediterranean from where it arrived to Hungary, via the Balkans, together with the Serbs and other southern peoples fleeing the Turks. Even though red wine varieties were unpopular in the Carpathian basin before Turkish rule, this bush trained grape that produced healthy fruit gained remarkable popularity within a few decades.
In the 19th century, the phylloxera epidemic destroyed this variety along with many others. Consequently, most plantations died out as the majority were planted on compact soil. Kadarka only survived in sandy soil with high limestone content, in which the ducts of the louse feeding on the roots became blocked. That’s why it’s possible to pick the fruit of vines planted in 1880 at Oszkár Maurer’s vineyards in Szerémség, in Vojvodina.
After replanting by grafting vines onto resistant American rootstocks, the star of Kadarka started to shine once again. However, its huge popularity was brought to an abrupt end by the move to mass production – within 40 years the share of Kadarka plummeted to just 1% of Hungarian planting. Wherever it couldn’t be forced to adjust to mechanisation, it was replaced by popular world varieties. It sensitivity to freezing also saw it pushed out in favour of the more resistant, lighter varieties by the big producers. The memory of these bad years is still alive today: for many Kadarka is a synonym for a mass-produced, watery and light table wine that was grown in massive yields on a high cordon.
To know more about the present and the future of the variety, and to learn about the Kadarka clones upon which the future of this diverse variety can be built, we asked the Heimann family who have been working with the Pécs Research Institute for 10 years, and Ildikó Markó, one of the winemakers of the Sauska Winery which joined the experiment in 2009.


Heimann Kadarka 2 Heimann Kadarka Maurer 1880 Heimann Ági Heimann Ági és Zoli Kadarka Tőke Kadarka tőke 2 Markó Ildikó Sauska címke

A few words about the clones 

Two main basic types of Kadarka are known to exist: the blue and the grey versions. Within these two kinds, they also distinguish between other clones based on genetic, viticultural and vinicultural research. The most well-known is the spicy, full, large-bunched P9 clone, which was once selected by Márton Németh. This still provides a significant part of Hungary's Kadarka production today, but is not suited to bulk production and only works well when yields are controlled.
The aim of the aforementioned decade-long clone selection trials and experiments is to refine the small, loose-bunched, thicker skinned and evenly ripening sub-types, which are more resistant against infection and carry the virtues of the variety. The first major selection was organised by Pál Kozma following WW2. At the beginning of this century his son, Pál Kozma Jnr., and János Werner started marking and selecting the Baranya and Szekszárd “mother vines” i.e. old vines with positive attributes. Five years later, the grafts of these were planted at the Heimanns, whereby the plants, grapes and subsequently the wine made out of them were put under constant examination in order to find the clones that produce the best and yield the nicest wines. It’s the beginning of a 20-30-year process, and in the meantime the winemakers are experimenting and gaining know-how while nature plays its part and gets involved in making the variety more colourful through cross-pollinating and mutations.


Ágnes Heimann, winemaker

When we planted our first Kadarka in 2002, Zoli and myself realised that we could only get hold of the spicy P9 grafts. Besides the subject itself being exciting, that was one of our reasons for joining the experiment of the Pécs Research Institute with whom we have been researching the variety for 10 years. During the course of the first five years, the researchers selected and labelled 80-100-year-old mother vines they had found in Kölesd and other small villages in Tolna, which were the most resistant and most varietally pure among the plantations following phylloxera. We examined the clones planted from these together for five years: bunch size, berry weight, we measured and noted down everything in the vineyard and in the cellar. After this I made wines from the clones separately, preparing them in the same circumstances, crafting them with the same yeast. Eventually, tasting them with winemakers, we drew conclusions, and decided on the final outcome of this stage of the experiment. The experiment that has been going on for 10 years has now reached its third phase: the chosen clone can only be Kadarka in our vineyard, not a Kadarka-like grape, and even though the selecting continues, the best grafts are making it to more and more places so that we can learn the good and bad qualities of the given versions. Another 10-15 years are needed for the fine tuning. Seven types have made it to being planted permanently in our vineyards out of the 30 versions. We primarily fell for the spicier, more vibrant line such as that of the wines of the 120 series (P122, 123, 124) but the more tannic, more pronounced clones, such as the 147 and the 173, also nicely colour the Kadarka. Today it’s still the P9 that gives the backbone of our Kadarka, although the proportion of the new clones are growing to 60% with new plantings, and we hope that the wines will benefit from this colourfulness. Here, in Szekszárd, we see a great opportunity in the variety. It is going to be a distinctive, recognisable variety of the wine region either as a big varietal wine, as Bikavér base material, or in the local Siller, the Fuxli, or as a vibrant rosé. 


Ildikó Markó, winemaker, Sauska winery 

If it’s good, we can expect a lot from Kadarka as the conveyer of quality Hungarian red wine on the international market – as a local variety, it provides the joy of discovery for both Hungarian and foreign consumers. One of the reasons for the renaissance of Kadarka is nostalgia in its positive sense. It still lives vividly in people’s memories as a table wine, a part of family meal from granddad’s cellar. It’s possibly the sole red variety that everybody knows the name of, even those who are not wine drinkers. It’s an important part of our heritage.
It’s a local variety with such a strong character that, even on its own, stands on its own feet perfectly. It’s the harmony of plenty of beautiful details. It delivers a big experience when it’s young, and in the optimal case, time also suits it and it ages well. Isn’t that exciting together? It’s Furmint that usually triggers similar passions within our team. A good Kadarka is light but not unserious, not just elegant but also exciting. Fruit and spice exude from it irresistibly at the first encounter.
We have to get to know this variety and consider it with a different mentality, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Yet, the whole thing is incredibly exciting professionally, mainly because this experiment spans across wine regions.
I believe those who have encountered different clones would agree that we are not looking for new candidates, but rather complementary ones. The currently highly significant P9 has very good potential besides yield control. The aim of the selection is primarily to select such types beside it; ones that are more resistant against diseases, have thicker skins, are less compact and have tighter bunches. The differences can be placed on a scale. There are more tannic, deeper coloured candidates (i.e. P147, P167, P173), out of which the 147 and the 167 worked for us but of course due to their tannins and deeper colour, are only used to for spice. The 110 and the 120 series indicate a lighter coloured, spicier, more ethereal character. The 124, for example, is a big favourite of mine: it gives a firm backboned, spicy, fruity wine, but is more resistant than the P9. Beside the P9, we have planted 15 clones from the experiment of the Heimanns, out of which five worked for us and for which we have long-term plans. In accordance with our vineyards and winemaking ideas, such as barrel ageing, the bit more tannic, rounder candidates come into question but we also believe in the 120 series, because lighter notes are necessary for elegance. We really like what the variety has achieved in the Villány soil in the last few years. We are unifying the plantations now, we continue to observe the soil and weather correlation regarding the given vintage. We are getting familiar with them.