Somló: Imre Györgykovács 2010 and 2011

In his mind our photographer had conjured up a cellar on the side of Somló hill, an underground labyrinth with a press house above it and an ageing chamber with barrels and bottles. Instead, what we actually find there is Imre and his wife Gyöngyike. Of course there’s also the hill: a big hill with loads of tiny houses on its skirt. Wine has been made in all of them. They have been in one of them, every day, for the past 20 years. Out of Ajka and up to Somló for work, holidays and to live. There’s a small press, small barrels, a small destemmer and a small labelling machine – as much as two people putting in lots of work can handle. The vines are just as many as that. They went to Austria once, but Imre was hard to deal with. If we talk to him locked in a room for more than an hour, you can see that he is already wandering around the vineyard in his mind. Every day, for 20 years. We imagine a board on the wall: “clean courtyard, neat house” – as Hungarians say.

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Gyöngyi, how can you cope?

Gyöngyi:  I’ve been in love with Imi for 40 years and the grapes as well. During the early years, I didn’t drink wine at all but then I gradually started tasting them. First, just the Tramini, now I’m into Rizling. I change with Imi, even if it’s not readily visible from the outside.

 

Is it possible to talk about anything else but grapes with him?

Gyöngyi: Maybe about out grandchild or future grandchildren. But even that will turn into a wine thought..

Imre: Certainly, as wine is just like a child. You have to nurture it, cherish it and love the vines from the moment they’re planted. We have grafted the whole estate together, and the two of us look after it as well. If we don’t deal with it, it will go to pot. A lazy man can’t make wine and there is also a fundamental need for consistency and precision. Maybe that’s why I studied to be both a gardener and a machinistt.

 

Has everything happened in the same way for the last 20 years?

Imre: In terms of size and “technology”, yes it has. Okay, we changed the wooden basket of our small hand press to a metal one, because that can be washed out better. Regarding grape work, circumstances change every day, and we try to adapt and think ahead. In 2010 for example, that’s what saved us. Out of lots of small jobs, from pruning to green work, something major came into existence: perfectly ripened, healthy fruit. When I prune, Gyöngyi picks up the cuttings. Next year’s cuttings are already in front of my eyes, that’s how I shape the vineyard. We do everything in a very simple manner; very clean, with very much awareness.

 

What is it like working together with a perfectionist?

Gyöngyi: Nice, and also tiring, at the same time. Around harvest time, we taste the grapes so often that our doctor tells us that our sugar levels have gone up again. The people who help us often call out while picking every single bunch, asking if the bunch can go into the box. At night if the press stops oozing and you have to loosen the marc, Imi wakes me up suddenly, because the material can’t go back to the press without being washed. As everything is done slowly and by hand, Imi plays everything out in his head and I follow him.

Imre: Gyöngyi is exaggerating but good wine can only be made in a pristinely clean cellar with clean devices. We would only lose, if we were to loosen up. We decided what size it is that the two of us can deal with, what size destemmer the two of us can lift up to the press, what barrel we can wash together out to be perfectly clean, and we don’t depart from this.  Our vineyards are so small and we harvest so few bunches that we cannot afford to make mistakes. We provide the conditions but we don’t get involved. Exactly like in the case of children. The wine ages for 9 months as well..

 

We are tasting the wines of two completely different vintages…

Imre: Indeed, even though the same amount of work went into both of them. The time that we spent with plant protection in cold and wet 2010, we spent on green work in 2011. Those few bunches would have been sweaty, if we hadn’t made their surroundings airy. We know every bunch, we look after them separately. I can honestly say that the local farmers come around to marvel at the fruit. In the case of dry wine, botrytis is unwanted and out of the question every year. The aim is beautiful, healthy grapes, prepared coolly in order to avoid them starting to ferment from inside the berries. For example, in 2011 we harvested in the evening, the bunches were cooled down in front of the cellar at night, and we destemmed the grapes at dawn

Gyöngyi: Now, the point is that we have home made egg pasta and chicken paprika. The chicken is from Imre’s mother and the vegetables for the pickles grew here among the grapes. Let’s eat.