Our own wine, by our own hands

We taste wine, see it, buy it – but somehow there has always been something missing as we wondered how we would do it if it was ours. This year, we finally had a go at making it: we are going to have our own wine. We wanted a light, fruity, contemporary red of the lovable kind. Our aim is also to create it in the most natural way, with minimum intervention.


Part 1. We went pruning >>>

Part 2. We selected shoots >>>

Part 3. Green work >>>

Part 4. Green harvest >>>

Part 5. Harvest >>>

Part 6. There won’t be any blending! >>>

Part 7. What happened in the barrels and the tanks? >>>

Part 8. Our Merlot has been bottled! >>>

Part 9. Our wine in the glass >>>

Part 1.:
We went pruning


We are dedicated to cultivating the grapes and making wine in a sustainable way with the least intervention possible, but we are pruning, binding, spraying, cutting the leaves, hoeing, grafting, fining and bottling, and we will be there at every significant stage and report on it. In February, we carried out pruning with our colleagues from Pécs. There was beautiful weather in Villány and almond trees in blossom – and, of course, the 2,000 Kékfrankos vines, ourselves and our shears. Gábor started the row and showed us how to prune the vines to the spur – he employs this method with every variety and the 80cm-high, medium-height cordon has worked well throughout the years. The most important thing on a quality plantation is not to preserve a lot of growing spurs so as to keep the arms constantly fresh. Therefore, we kept the new spurs (the first small spur that will be the arm next year) and pruned above them. Later, we popped into the cellar and tasted the 2015 wines from the tanks. It’s the best vintage of the last few years with exceptionally well-structured, balanced wines. The new Rouge will be a bit more concentrated and very exciting. We delivered the job so well that we were given some fig spurs to do by Gábor and we can hardly wait for the next step.


Part 2.:

We selected shoots


At the beginning of the year, we decided to have a go at winemaking. Together with our winemaker, Gábor Kiss, we’ve been looking after a 1.3-hectare plot comprising 2,000 Kékfrankos vines in Villány. We’re there at every step along the way and we’re sharing our experiences with you for a year and at the end a wine will be born that we can be completely part of.


After the pruning carried out by our colleagues from our Pécs wine shop, there was a break for a couple of weeks. Then followed the spring tasks of cutting the grass by tractor and the selection of the shoots. By the time we got to Kisharsány, we learnt from Gábor that in the vineyard we have to say a loud ‘good morning’ and instead of a tractor we would have to make do with a mechanical grass cutter. In the bright sunshine, the morning started with a briefing from Irénke, who with her 66 years and strong work ethic quickly gained our respect. She explained what we should pay attention to and we – two horticultural engineers, a bioengineer, a to-be physiotherapist and an opera singer – listened intently. Based on Irénke’s directions, we selected the shoots on the medium cordon cultivated parcel, which means that we had to set the number of the shoots on the canes which had appeared since pruning, whereby we could more or less define the number of producing shoots. During the offshoot selection, we had to leave two shoots on a cane. During the shoot selection we had to leave two shoots on an arm; always the ones that we closer to the base. On top of that we had to pay attention that the left shoots should be positioned so that later the airy foliage can be easily shaped. For lunch, Gábor prepared Nagyharsány “lángos” (deep-fried dough), accompanied by rosé spritzer and strawberry cordial. After lunch, we went back to the vineyard and continued working, until the last row. “See you in a few weeks time, when the vines should be tied up,” – they said in their farewell.



Part 3.:

Green work


With the help of Gábor Kiss, we found the place and the grape variety next to Villány, and we got as far as the hoeing of the soil and the pruning of our Kékfrankos vines when nature had its say. At the very end of April, when all the growers in the vineyards would normally anticipate warm weather, such a freeze enveloped the Carpathian Basin and hardly anyone was prepared for it. There hadn’t been such a severe freeze since as far as anyone can remember; in certain places 100 per cent of the grape growing areas were affected. Our Kékfrankos parcel was also ruined by the freeze but the calamity couldn’t hinder our enthusiasm. After going back to drawing board with Gábor, we started the whole thing all over again in a new location with new varieties. Our mutual decision came down to Merlot and Cabernet Franc and the neighbouring plots near Villány, on the border of Kisharsány. Due to the idleness of the preceding weeks, we re-emerged with renewed enthusiasm for the job.

The beginning of summer is the time for green work in the vineyard. This means getting rid of unnecessary shoots and branches, relieving the vines of the surplus foliage and the shoots that only take away nutrients. Gábor’s right-hand woman, Irénke, took five of our colleagues under her wing. In the mud that remained from the rain the day before, we proceeded with heavy steps and we touched the vines gently at first, proceeding with great care, although Irénke gave us words of encouragement, “you can't spoil anything on the vines, they grow like weeds”. However, by the afternoon, we had quite got the taste for it. Looking back from the end of the row, we were filled with a sense of enormous pride: our trimmed vines standing in symmetrical rows looked like they could hardly wait to produce excellent grapes.

Sensing our pride, Gábor has started the countdown to our next date. Our grapes are developing so rapidly that we can go again in a few weeks time. Mainly the same tasks will await us but this time in the heat. We’ve got to be there!



Part 4.:

Green harvest and Verjus


In August, two exciting tasks awaited us: green harvesting and picking up the green clusters with a tractor. During the green harvest, we separated the healthy but unripe clusters from the vines – a move that makes the potential quantity of wine decrease but the remaining fruit more concentrated. We felt bad about leaving the clusters thrown among the rows, so we came up with the idea of making verjus (the juice of unripe grapes which is prized in gastronomy as an alternative to vinegar). We collected the unripe grapes with a tractor and took them to the cellar to be processed. Although Gábor confidently declared that we could start pressing in six minutes, the pump appeared to be too gentle for unripe berries. Thus, we had to turn to traditional technology: we lifted the fruit to the old basket press by our own hands. Our colleagues with especially developed Jenga skills built up the roof structure made up by the press’ wooden parts, then following the oozing out of the free-run juice, we started pressing by hand. Sixteen minutes later, our very first, super scrumptious verjus spritzer was ready.

Despite the fact it passed the test on the spot, as it’s not a fermented beverage, it’s a serious professional challenge to keep it in a stable state. It can become cloudy, and start fermenting. Gábor provided the professional background but to introduce it, we might need a bit of luck as well. After the Olympics, we can only ask everyone to please support us!



Part 5.: 


While making our own wine, we’ve been in the vineyard with Gábor Kiss from the very start, and we reported about the work from month to month. We experienced that sometimes goodwill and endeavour means nothing, for nature has the last say. And by mid-October grapes ripened – here’s the harvest.


Because of the capricious weather, determining the time of the harvest was more complicated this year than all the love storylines of a Brazilian soap opera. Never mind that we stood at the door with our clipping shears ready to leave, the autumn rain ordered us back to the shop three times. Eventually, on October 14, we picked all the grapes we could find in the parcel in the blazing sunshine.

‘All’ is a bit of an exaggeration because the rain caused some infection that we had to take into account. A smaller part of some clusters and at other times whole clusters had to be removed so that we could put only healthy grapes into the cases awaiting further selection. The tendrils were nicely browned which shows the phenolic ripeness of blue grapes. The grapes are sweet, the seeds are not bitter – promising signs for the birth of a delicious ripe wine.


Part 6.:

There won’t be any blending!


While making our own wine, we’ve had to confront some challenges but in mid-October we harvested perfectly ripened Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the twin parcels in Kisharsány. The two varieties were put into separate tanks and we could hardly wait to taste the first samples.


“I’ll bring both of them up by 10am on Wednesday and we can play around a bit with trial sampling,” wrote Gábor Kiss on a mid-November day. On a Wednesday morning, after a pipe burst in his Kisharsány house and a two-hour drive on the M6, Gábor was here in Budapest clutching 2x2 litres of wine under his arm. We tasted the Merlot, then the Cabernet as single varietals first, so that we could see the differences in their respective character before conjuring up a blend. Then we tasted the Merlot again. Then the Cabernet Franc. We offered it to two guests and another five of our colleagues and we realised that these wines brought a smile to everyone’s faces. The Merlot is aromatic, explosively fruity with juicy raspberry, while the Cabernet Franc is a lot tighter, longer and more substantial with paprika spice and pepper on the palate. Eventually, we ended up deciding that we shouldn’t bother with the measuring jugs as there won’t be any blending because these wines are good as they are. The 1,300 litres of Merlot will be given brief ageing in the tank in order to maintain its stunning fruitiness, while the barely 300 litres of Cabernet Franc will start off on a longer journey supported by barrels. We are curious to see the development; the Merlot could possibly be on the shelves by the spring. 


Part 7.:
What happened in the barrels and the tanks?


Finally our wines have been put into tanks and barrels, where important changes have been happening to them and still are, for this is where the stuff really turns into wine. The reason we cannot talk solely in the past tense is that the story of our own wine continued in two ways:
With the Merlot, the fermentation was carried out in tanks. It was fermented spontaneously with a low level of sulphur and no cultured yeast was added to it. This year – probably because of the extreme fluctuation in temperatures, the vintage was more “stressful” – as they say in winemaking parlance – thus the malic acid was higher than average, and it took more time to break down than usual. We left everything to run its course, so it was mid-March when Gábor Kiss informed us that the malic acid had completely disappeared, and that the wine was stable and ready for bottling. In the meantime, we started pondering over what the bottle should look like. We were certain of two things: one is that we should choose a classic Bordeaux bottle because of the variety and that we ought to use screw cap because of its fresh, fruity character. We mulled over the colour of the capsule a lot. Eventually, we chose a matt red capsule that would match the future label as well – and we could establish the date of bottling.

In the meantime, our Cabernet Franc is still ageing in a 225-litre barrel. According to Gábor Kiss, “it’s thick and already brings the characteristic aromas of the variety”, but there are 4-5 months ahead us before this wine will be bottled.


Part 8.:

Our Merlot has been bottled!

The third of May is a milestone in the history of our own wine. That was the day we bottled our Merlot. First, we had to get the wine into the bottling plant, from the Kisharsány cellar to Villány, on a truck. Gábor Kiss happened to be bottling his Cabernet Franc, Code, in the morning on the same day, but in the afternoon, it was our turn. A huge production line that is capable of everything from washing the bottles to fixing the caps carried out all the procedures. Disinfecting the bottles is a phase that requires manual labour and the sterilised bottles have to be put under the filling head by hand. At one time, the machine fills 16 bottles which continue their way on a production line to the next stop, the corking machine. However, since our wine has a screw cap, we had to put the caps one by one on the neck of each bottle, which were then tightened on the screw by the machine. Even though, the process might seem to be long, we finished with the 1,650 bottles in an hour and a half (and with this we also shed light on exactly how many bottles were made of our first bottled wine).



Part 9.:

Our wine in the glass


“We’re never going to have another wine like this. But we’ll certainly have more of our own.” These two sentences best sum up how we now feel having the bottle of wine in our hands, which we made ourselves for the first time in our lives. The whole 47 of us made 1,650 bottles of Merlot in partnership with Gábor Kiss, our Villány winemaker friend. We wrote in detail about the earlier stages and the winemaking process, here: https://www.bortarsasag.hu/en/magazine/The_complete_story_Our_own_wine_by_our_own_hands


“I’m completely smitten by it”
Gábor Kiss, winemaker
“When I first heard about the ‘own wine’ idea, I really liked it and at once my brain started processing how it could be accomplished… During the more than a year since, you experienced all the elements and the feeling of grape growing and winemaking, from the lighter, fun and caring part, through to the despair after the frost hit the plot and the struggle in the 40-degree summer heat. For me, you carried out the work in the vineyard surprisingly precisely and thoughtfully, paying great attention to detail. True, you can continually fine tune the vineyard work, but someone who has been doing it for decades doesn’t do it with such dedication. We had very similar ideas throughout about almost everything, including that the wine should be as natural as possible. We didn’t want to influence nature. That’s why it was fermented spontaneously and why we used very little sulphur. That’s how this Merlot could become a natural, friendly, generous and über fruity wine but at the same time also a substantial one. I’m completely smitten by it.” 


“The label should be just like our wine”
Graphic designer Krisztina Artner-Tóth, who designed the label

“I wished to strengthen the ‘we made it ourselves’ concept with the label as well. I wanted to show that it’s a natural wine that was made by our own hands. I played around with the thought of how I would tackle designing the label were I not a graphic designer. Also, supposing I had no computer and only a typewriter, what would I do with that? Although it’s not obvious at first glance, the label was made with one single font type in one single size as you cannot change the font types and sizes on a typewriter. I wanted the most simple and the most natural design that was possible. I wanted the label to be just like our wine.” 


“We still depend on nature”
Our colleague, Gábor Csorba, the engine of the ‘own wine’ initiative
“For me, the greatest experience was regarding how much we still depend on nature despite all the knowledge, experience and technological innovation. Up until now, I thought that there was a lot more power in the hands of winemakers in the vineyard and I was surprised to see that it’s not like that at all. The largest part of grape growing is still not in human hands. Our job is to react to the weather conditions in the best possible and quickest way. That’s what we tried to do under Gábor’s patient leadership – to work in the vineyard and the cellar with the best intention, humbleness and discipline. Among the few things that really depended on us was the appearance of our wine. We were thinking a lot about every step and also about this stage: because of the variety we chose a classic Bordeaux bottle, a screw cap for its fresh, fruity character and a red matt capsule that matches the indigo letters on the label.”