Válibor, Badacsonyörs – Wines for our own pleasure

Péter Váli has always been likeable to us, but somehow we’d never got close to his wines. This year – in order to strengthen the local offerings of our wine store in Balatonfüred – we rang on his bell and bought some of his wines. Then, we went to visit him to talk about the estate and the wines in a bit more detail.

Organic growing is a great game
It’s good that you’ve come now, so you can see how things work around here. The men who do the hoeing have just arrived from Békéscsaba. Six people work full-time on the estate but we always need more hands to help out. There are places here into which the pan-breaker doesn’t even fit, where the work can only be done by manual labour. This is an average day but the phone keeps ringing. I’ve just consulted my plant protection ‘master’. There has been almost 100% humidity for weeks, so the pressure of the powdery mildew and downy mildew is so serious that we have to spray every week. The majority of the plots are cultivated organically but it doesn’t mean we don’t spray, but rather that plant protection takes two to three times as much time and expense than in the case of the non-organically cultivated plots. It’s a great game.

 

Ten hectares
They’re almost all our own grapes, there’s only a minimal amount that we buy in as a supplement, but we only purchase grapes from places we exert some control over, where we follow the cultivation throughout the year. We have four and a half hectares here around the house in Badacsönyörs, four hectares on Tóti-hegy and smaller plots next to Szigliget – that’s how the plots add up.

 

Gastronomy and winemaking
I went to the Károly Gundel Secondary School for Catering, which had a good reputation back then. It was well before the transition, around 1985 and 1986. We had a fantastic teacher called Mr. Keller, who brought French and Italian wines, ham, cheese and all sorts of delicacies from his foreign trips and ‘dollar shops’ – which he bought from his own money. We tasted these during classes on serving. What did we know about these wines? Nothing. Back then, the maximum we drank at parties was red wine with coke and if we were lucky, we weren’t sick the next day. In those classes, however, we got to know a completely new world. We drank real wines, heard interesting stories about big wineries, looked at photos of amazing places and stunning vineyards. I was 16 but the desire to have my own small winery one day was born.

  

Freedom and trust
Our grandmother had a small garden here and I added the rest by buying up plots bit by bit. I was 29 years old when I started building up the winery. I worked at the Eventrend catering group. It was a serious professional job, we dealt with restaurants and events, and I was even a sommelier. Whatever I earned there, I spent it on the winery. In 2006, I could already see that it was going to be more than a few-hectare estate. The aim was 10 hectares, we’ve already reached that and it won’t be more than that. The next step is building out the infrastructure. It was six years ago when I made the switch for good and moved to Badacsonyörs. I spend four to five days here each week and my family is in Budapest. We spend the weekends together and that’s what has become our system. A good wife is necessary for it, I admit. Not everybody could stand it, but Bogi knows that it’s not just a job for me but a vocation. I’m 48 years old, we have four kids and I can proudly say that we have a great marriage – we adore each other. You need freedom and trust for this lifestyle. The kids are 13, 12, seven and five and they each have a wine named after them. Luca’s wine is a Muscat Ottonel and Budai Zöld blend, Peti’s wine is Pinot Noir, Vince’s is a Hárslevelű, Sárgamuskotály and Zeus blend, and Marci’s is a Pinot Noir and Syrah rosé.

 

For our own pleasure
This statement appears on all the labels. It comes from the time when I started and everyone asked why? Well, because I only want to make wine in my own style and for my own pleasure. These wines don’t follow any trends, and they won’t be made to order. I’m glad if other people like them, because you also have to sell the wine. As I gathered more and more experiences on my foreign trips, it became obvious to me that it’s the big wineries that follow the trends, the really good artisanal wineries never ride on the back of trends. Every wine has a different message but for me it was an important consideration from the first moment that they should be good for pairing with food.
My rosé, for instance, is best with meals made in a cauldron or with a plate of ham. Vince is a fuller bodied blend with barrel ageing, so I’d recommend it with serious, spicy meals. The Pinot Noir is best paired with noble meats.

 

I’m proud of Badacsony
I think it’s not just one of the best wine regions in Hungary but also in the world, without exaggeration. If you read up in the archives, a lot of the vineyards here were among the most expensive in Europe. The Ágyús, for example, on the top of Tóti Hill, where my Kéknyelű is, was a top vineyard with its 384-point ranking. It was called the Semillon-hilltop because the Semillon grape variety grew on it. We can see it, if we walk up to the plot behind the guesthouse. This terroir can do a lot.

 

I pay attention to the perfection of fermentation
Organic grape growing doesn’t mean that we let anything happen to the grapes. It’s not witchcraft to make a technologically pure wine. Even an artisanal wine has to pay attention to technology, the trick is not to get involved too much. I pay attention to the perfection of fermentation and that’s my philosophy.
I also use skin contact for white wine, depending on the variety and the vintage, for six to 48 hours. It gives a lot in the way of substance and structure, and spontaneous fermentation starts more easily. I rarely inoculate the fermenting wines with cultured yeast, and even then I only use neutral yeast, so that it doesn’t cover anything in the wine. I ferment in temperature-controlled barrels and tanks, and often blend the two. In think I was a pioneer with this in these parts.