The old rascals –Liptai, Rakaczki, Mérész

When we decided that we wanted to continue our ‘Three winemakers’ series, we had no idea what a tough job it was going to be. Gábor Rakaczki (Sauska), Sándor Mérész (Etyeki Kúria) and Zsolt Liptai (Pannonhalmi Apátsági Pince) fill out the available space by themselves separately, but together they form an explosive mixture. 

Sándor Mérész:

As it happened, Rakaczki and I were ‘spading’ and yawning with hangovers in the university’s greenhouse in Gyöngyös, when Zsolt Liptai came up to us and asked if he could join in. All three of us studied to be gardeners, although originally I wanted to be a pilot. Gábor and I started a year above Zsolt, but we took a year off in order to study a language, thus we got into Zsolt’s year. And since we were the same year, we started hanging out together: the long nights – sometimes memorable and sometimes forgotten by the next morning – started at the Nosztalgia Bár and in the Aroma Presszó in Gyöngyös


Gábor Rakaczki:

The loads of ‘change-the-world’ nights in the aforementioned cultural institutions gave us lasting developmental directions and defined new aims. It so happened that having sunk into our thoughts, we stayed away from the educational centre, which raised our professor’s anger to a higher level. Quite rightfully. By today, these are all are sweet memories with good humour and nostalgia.   


Zsolt Liptai:

We owe a lot to Professor Szőke. As Sándor said, we originally applied to an agricultural school but he was the one who came up with the idea that he would do European-level viticulturist-oenolgist training, which would only require 20 interested and intelligent young men. There were only 19 of us and we worked for a night at the Nosztalgia bar trying to convince the 20th person. We succeeded, so we regard it a bit as our own triumph that this department could start. Until then, you could only study viticulture and oenology separately in Hungary – under his direction the two things, which can only be understood together, were connected.




It wasn’t just the knowledge, the course also gave drive and spirit. Lasting, deep friendships were also established and founded by the many trips that Lajos Szőke organised for us. He took us to tons of cellars, both in Hungary and abroad. During the professional trips, we visited quite a lot of Austria’s, Germany’s, Slovenia’s and Italy’s wine regions and research institutes. A couple of weeks after receiving our degrees, we started the first serious harvests of our lives in California as interns.



Besides the plentiful fun, we’d already talked a lot about grapes and wine. The basis of our friendship is such that we can still call each other any time when we seek an answer to a professional question. There isn’t a problem we cannot solve after three to four phone calls. As a kid from Tokaj, my Russian was stronger, so I could only join my playmates in the US after a year of studying English. Until then, I’d worked at the Tokaj Kereskedőház, where I was able to accompany so many foreign winemakers and consultants that I could learn that side, too. Back then, I had no idea how important this experience would be in my life. Ever since I’ve kept working with foreigners, Italians and French, on Tokaj-Hegyalja, which is understood as the centre of the world.            




We celebrated the turn of the millennium together in Budapest and in the meantime things happened quickly: Tibor Gál gave 10 minutes to Sándor to decide whether he wished to continue his life in Tuscany on a 130-hectare estate. Tibor took me to Pannonhalma to see what the Apátsági Pince (Abbey winery) was going to be like. In front of the monks, he already said that Zsolt would do this and that in the cellar. Since at that time I was working for Tibor in Eger, on the way back I asked him if I was fired and if I had to work in Pannonhalma from now on. He said that would be good. And it turned out to be good. 



I didn’t regret one of the most crucial decisions of my life, on the contrary! It’s true that I didn’t have a lot of time for it. I went for a week to an Italian language course, then I started work in Bolgheri. Tibor drew up on a checked piece of paper for the family to show what the technology was going to be like. There was a grape bunch on it, an arrow, a tank, another arrow and a bottle. Try not to go wrong, he said. The next day, the first harvest started – along with four exciting years – at Aia Vecchia.  





The lots of travel and study, during and after school, was good for us not to long for anywhere else. For me, Tokaj remained. I grew into it. This was my 10th harvest at the Sauska estate. I feel lucky because I could shape the new profile of the winery together with the owner. From the traditional, rather sweet-wine world, we took a definite turn towards dry wine, then another one towards traditional method sparkling wine, which has to be followed by the team in the vineyard and in the winery. I dare say that there is not going to be anything as busy and exciting as these years were. The basis is strong, now ‘only’ the period of style seeking comes. The task is to show Tokaj’s beauty and depth in traditional method wines to the world – that’s what we wish to concentrate on in the next 100 years.   



I can’t complain, either: at the Kúria I work with two places of growth in parallel. After the perfectly limestone and cool Etyek, our position is strengthening in Sopron, too. We studied the soil a lot to see how certain varieties react on different plots. By today, we seek the limestone in Sopron as well. We are convinced that the qualities of the wine region will increase in value in this changing world. Sopron is not only a wine region, it’s also a style. The Sopron character suits Zweigelt a lot, and our job is to make red wines with long ageing potential from the limestone soil by achieving the appropriate soil conditions, whether it’s a more ‘easy-going’ but substantial Zweigelt; a rich, exciting Kékfrankos; or an elegant Merlot.      



I’ve just been through the 16th harvest at the Abbey, out of which 13 were about growing, while the last three were about refining and tweaking. Luckily, the Benedictines are open, they let me experiment and renew. This way, I don’t get lost in everyday routines but I can learn all the time. The soil and the location are important for us too, but if I look at this Hemina, I concentrate a lot more on the final result: I'm trying to fine-tune a wine that is nicely fruity, but also substantial and serious. Infusio gave the lesson; its little sibling has to stand its ground with serious juice alongside its rich fruitiness.