The guy from Transylvania who makes world champion traditional method sparkling wines

After a four-hour drive and another half hour spent waiting – we had to give way to cattle – we turned, and arrived in Kérésztelek, which is hidden among the Szilágyság hills. It’s a tiny Hungarian village, located at the western end of Romania, in the Partium, hardly an hour’s drive from the Hungarian border. A new car arrives and people look at it curiously. At the grocery, we have to turn right, up towards the cemetery. There are goats and racka sheep, then hens next to the road, and a goose is hissing angrily at the car. We turn, reach the top of the hill and we arrive in a completely different world. There are vineyards as far as the eye can see on the amphitheatre-like hillside, while in the middle there’s a snow-white, modern cellar for traditional method sparkling wine. Among the bottles and tanks, Csaba Bereczki is smiling.  

“There is enough from tradition in here”

This place has always been a typical white wine region. Even the Romans cultivated the grapes they brought along with them on the Szilágyság hills. Wine has always been made in the village, while in the town traditional method sparkling wine has been made. It’s thanks to Tibor Gál that alongside the white varieties, red wine grapes were also planted on the south-facing hillsides. Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier –dreamt up for traditional method sparkling wines. A beautiful, mica-slate hillside that looks to the south and is soaked by the sun all day. It gives a mineral terroir wine, the forest protects it from the cool winds and the fence from the animals, because there are quite a lot of both of those here. But traditional method sparkling wine requires this coolness. Two parcels, the Tóka and the Kiscsere in one place, at a height of 320 metres. The older the vines get, the deeper their roots go, the more of the minerality of “our hill” can be tasted.

 

 

Everything by hand, at the right moment

We harvest the grapes for the sparkling wines at least two weeks before the grapes for the still wines. After the soil, this is the next key aspect. We sample, press, taste, contemplate on a daily basis, because here even one day could matter, and then we collect the bunches for the sparkling wine by hand at the right time, going row by row. Analysis, charts and good decisions. These are the secrets of this phase.

 

  

“There’s no hesitation. A traditional method sparkling wine is such a drink.”

Every bunch is put into the press quickly as a whole, even the farthest away grapes come from within 200 metres. This is the secret of the fresh, crispy, exciting base wines and then the complex-flavoured sparkling wines. The press is hardly working, we separate the fractions, the base wine for the traditional method sparkling wine is only made from healthy bunches and from the best must parts. Even after that there is no hesitation, no delay, traditional method sparkling wine is such a drink. The key to everything is temperature control, the right Champagne yeast, healthy, faultless fermentation.

 

From the school to the sparkling wine cellar

We are at the beginning by all means. They were looking for a cellar master, and they asked my bio-technology professor and luckily, he only recommended one person for here. I started as a cellar worker, then became the cellar master, winemaker, then the viticulturist-oenologist. When I started here, everybody was older than me. At the beginning it was hard for me to accept that from then on, we would prune and harvest differently when making sparkling wines. But that’s not only why I say that we’re still at the beginning, but because we’re still seeking the traditional method sparkling wine style of Kárásztelek. We are thinking in terms of Champagne, we taste, we visit cellars and talk. We taste the traditional method sparkling wines of others and our own. We think, analyse and learn. I was lucky in this as well: even in Champagne I found friends who were not secretive as is usual there, but they were talking openly and teaching me honestly. So, we are searching for the style, and it’s a great joy for us with the colleagues who founded and who work in the winery.

 

 

“I developed together with the Kárásztelek traditional method sparkling wine.”

At the beginning, it was really difficult to be in a tiny village on my own after the lyceum in Szováta and university in Marosvásárhely. Today, I can’t imagine ever leaving this place once. They say nobody has adjusted to this community the same was as I have, for 20 years. I don’t know about this but I certainly love being here. I came here at a young age, so I matured, aged and developed together with the Kárásztelek traditional method sparkling wine. The best part of it is that bubbles give a lot more chance for experimenting, thinking and planning than still wines. It’s the wine of solutions. If you are a careful grower, if you think and experiment enough, it will give it back. It will be even more elegant, even more complex and longer. That’s what we are working on now with the team. I’m interested in the barrel-aged base wines, a touch of malolactic fermentation, the possibility of longer ageing and of course achieving the right cuvée and dosage. My dad was an electrician, my mother a carpenter. I practically grew up in a workshop in Székely Land. When I moved here, I furnished my workshop before my flat. I’m always fiddling with something, with metal, wood, grapes, presses, the turning-machine. I’m excited by creating something new from something and the traditional method sparkling wine is a fantastic base material for this. Its only shortcoming is that you can only check if you did a good job every three years.

 

From Kárásztelek to London

In October, at The Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championship (CSWWC 2018), the Carassia Blanc de Blancs was the gold medalist in its category (Rising Star, Best in Class). It was fantastic standing on the stage with the team in London and receive the prize. Alongside the Kreinbachers, we were the other Hungarian team on the stage. It was an uplifting, unforgettable and hopefully not an unrepeatable experience.