Vineyard Tales – There’s a story behind every vineyard

We’ve talked about wine from many angles, but we recently heard a good story about the origins of the Babszökő vineyard and we realised that we hadn’t approached wine from the perspective of vineyards. Of course we knew that there’s a vineyard (or rather more than one vineyard) behind every successful wine and winemaker. Then, when we started approaching it from the direction of vineyards, we also realised that there’s a story behind every single vineyard. The interesting vineyard names even kick-start the imagination and mystical legends behind them can be conjured up. We started following up on these, together with local winemakers and we did indeed find quite a few interesting anecdotes. Among the personal stories of winemakers, some date back centuries and others are more recent. Here are tales from Balaton, Eger, Tokaj, Pannonhalma, Sopron, Szekszárd and Villány.

“We truly fell for it because of its name”

Babszökő vineyard, Pannonhalmi Apátsági Pince


In the Babszökő (lit. meaning ‘escaping bean’) vineyard, beside the red wine grapes, Riesling also grows (from which the Prior 2016 was made). The vineyard isn’t just important for the abbey’s chief winemaker, Zsolt Liptai, because it lies exactly at the same height as the Arch Abbey’s building (at 292 metres above sea level) but also because its soil is not the loess, which is typical in the region, but red clay, full of limestone pieces, with excellent water utilisation. “We truly fell for it because of its name. We thought that in the place where the beans enjoy themselves so much that they escape to the sky, grapes would certainly enjoy themselves as well. Our concept was the right one. Thanks to the soil, the grapes produce a fuller-bodied, more velvety red wine. It’s also good for Riesling, which becomes richer and creamier from it. Then, years later, in the mayor’s office of the closest village to the vineyard, in Écs, I came across a local historian’s description*. I was surprised to read that nobody had ever grown beans in our vineyard. Further, it wasn’t even originally called that way, but ‘bakszökő’, meaning approximately ‘escaping buck’, and it was only because of mishearing or misspelling that it officially became Babszökő (which might have been suggested by the neighbouring Babuka vineyard). It was called Bakszökő even at the end of the 1500s, but then the pasture land turned into a dense wilderness through which the male animals tried to pass to reach the females. Perhaps it was roebucks chasing the female deer that leaped around here, although it’s also possible that it billy goats, which were used as livestock and were separated from the females, were the animals trying to escape, who were time after time caught by the locals in the area.”

* * Dr Imre Ábrahám, The past of the Écs parish. Investigating the village’s historic and linguistic sources



Csirke-mál vineyard, Tokaj Nobilis Estate


Anyone who speaks Hungarian would probably presume that csirke-mál (csirke meaning chicken and mál being close enough to máj – meaning liver) means chicken liver, but that’s wrong. In the 16th-17th century, when the vineyard was given its name, the world ‘mál’ meant the best or the most valuable. The rókamál (róka means fox) meant the fur on the bottom half of the fox’s belly, which was the most delicate and the softest fur, and the greatest luxury of the aristocratic ladies was a small jacket made from it. “We have no idea whether the owner at the time, Mrs. Izsák Csirke, had a fox fur jacket or not or what her maiden name was and when she lost her husband,” says Sarolta Bárdos from Nobilis, who didn’t just start growing grapes in the vineyard but also traced its past. She found the first written mention of the vineyard’s name in documents dated from 1635 when it was already planted with grapes. “What’s certain is that she was a member of the landed gentry and a Bodrogkisfalud citizen who died without an heir and as a good protestant, she left the vineyard to the Tarcal parish. The vineyard has carried her name ever since, and the reason why the word ‘mál’ was added to it was because that’s how they described the best and warmest vineyards. The parish got rid of it and by the 1700s, it was owned by the Rákóczis as many other vineyards in the region were, but after the end of the War of Independence, their vineyards were also confiscated. It became the estate of imperialist aristocrats, and later, in the 1950s, it became a state-owned vineyard, which they stopped cultivating around 1980. We replanted it in 2004 with the Furmint that provides the base wine for our sparkling wine – except for the small, separate plot of Susogó, which is a parcel of the Csirke-mál. This is the part of the vineyard that’s the furthest away, right next to the forest and it has different soil (it’s not andesite but rhyolite tuff), but what makes it really special is that owing to the constant breeze, you can always hear the tale, the whispering of the leaves.”



An old and a current love story

Szerelmi vineyard, Zoltán Demeter Winery, Tokaj


One of the most valuable vineyards of the Mézesmál promotorium (that is ‘grape hill’) lying between Tokaj and Tarcal is the romantically named Szerelmi-dűlő (meaning amorous, loverlike). The vineyard’s current owner, winemaker Zoltán Demeter, traced its past with the help of a historian. That’s how we learnt that its name originally wasn’t Szerelmi but Szerémi, after György Szerémi (1490-1548), a Nagyvárad priest and humanist scholar, who received the extensive estate from János Szapolyai, Voivode of Transylvania and later Hungarian King János I, in return for his loyalty in the 1520s. The vineyard remained their property until the turn of the 17th century, but after that, Transylvanian princes István Bocskai, Zsigmond Rákóczi and later Gábor Bethlen also purchased significant territories from the Tokaj principality before Gábor Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania, got hold of it all. With this, the family’s grape estates spectacularly grew on the territory that was still called Szerémi at the time. After the collapse of Rákóczi’s War of Independence, in 1711, the court in Vienna confiscated it and alongside other former Rákóczi estates, listed the vineyards. That’s when the previously used Szerémi (but also sometimes written as Szerémy/Zerémy) name was swapped for the Szerelmi known today. Whether the chamber inspector was in love at the time of the census or wanted to delete the historic name on purpose, or possibly mistakenly heard or wrote the name, everyone can decide as they wish, but one thing is certain, at the time of the census, he wrote the vineyard’s name as Szerelmi, which in 1717 was granted by the court in Vienna to a devotee, to the aristocratic Klobusiczky family.


There’s another story from the Szerelmi vineyard and it’s Zoltán Demeter’s personal story. “After the family vineyard, this was first the plot of my own. It doesn’t give itself easily and it’s hard to cultivate. It’s quite incredible, but even today, in 2017, we work it with horses and hand hoeing. There are 3-4 metre deep gullies in it, after heavy rainfall you can’t even get near to it. If someone gets caught by the rain there, they can’t even get off the plot as the loess soil becomes like a skating rink. This might be the reason why it wasn’t collectivised after World War II and it didn’t become part of the wine collective. The MZ tractor couldn’t drive up it. So they gave it to the Tiszaladány peasants to cultivate. They quite possibly didn’t even know that it’s one of the best places of growth in the world. I always see a movie-like scene in front of me when I think of this period. I imagine a young agronomist of the time standing in the semi-dilapidated vineyard pondering over what grape varieties they should plant here. He asks the elderly Pista, who’s been working here for many decades what he thinks, and he responds, “Józsi, only Hárslevelű should be planted here, that’s what likes being here.’ And they act accordingly. These, over 60-year-old vines that were planted in the 1950s, take up most of the vineyard today. When I bought it, there were only a few old vines on one-third of it. As a young upstart I thought I would pick out the old Hárslevelű and plant Transylvanian Kövérszőlő in its place. I didn’t have anyone to ask whether I was acting right as the agronomist in the 50s had in my imaginary story. After all, Kövérszőlő is useful, it’s a pillar of sweet wines, but after about 5-6 years, it was becoming obvious that it’s not the right place for it. Its planting was a basic mistake, which I’ll correct next year. We’ll graft Hárslevelű on it. I could’ve listened better what the past prompted to me, because it always does. But for me, here in the Szerelmi vineyard, it took a couple of years to understand its message.”



The land of hell, the island of peace

Höllesgrund vineyard, Weninger Winery, Sopron


Höllesgrund means the ‘land of hell’ in English but the devil doesn’t appear in old land registers among the former owners of the vineyard near Balf. Nevertheless, it is mentioned in the very first Sopron land register. At the end of the 15th century, Hans Winkler, the then judge Andre Paltramb and the Zieglers were its owners, and the territory was almost always possessed by German-speaking citizens of Sopron. According to its current owner, winemaker Franz Weninger, sulphuric gas may have appeared back then on the lower, wetter parts of the area, and these sulphuric expirations could have been regarded as the devil’s sulphurous breath and the vineyard as the limbo of hell. Its proximity to the sulphuric thermal bath in Balf seems to support Franz’s theory. It was marked as a vineyard on a map from 1680 with possibly white grapes, and perhaps Furmint was grown on it.
“This plot that has been ours for more than 10 years is not wet anymore. We got it between 2004 and 2006, and we planted Austrian clones of Blaufrankish on it. I’ve never felt the smell of sulphur, nor did I see any traces of the devil,” adds a laughing Franzi, who is known for his biodynamic wines. “Even more, it’s in fact a very positive plot for me. It doesn’t have a hot cauldron-like feel to it, and it’s not warmer despite its name, but rather cooler than the nearby Steiner vineyard. It’s also dear to me because its German name gave me a bit of a feeling of home when I first came to Hungary to cultivate grapes. Today, I feel that its name is still a cultural link which proves that here, near the border, different nationalities have mixed and lived in peace with each other, and that’s how we still cultivate the grapes on both sides of the border.”



Captain Porkoláb’s late fame

Porkoláb-völgy, Sebestyén Winery, Szekszárd


Már Probus császár ideje, a III. század közepe óta biztos van itt szőlő, de a Porkoláb-völgyet csak a XV. században nevezték el. Nem a hegyet vigyázó őrszem vagy a helyi fogda őre volt a névadó, hanem Berzsenyi Porkoláb Kelemen, aki Tolna vármegye alispánja, Bátaszék kormányzója és várkapitánya volt. Porkoláb kapitány 1457-ben lett szőlőbirtokos a vidéken, de hogy értett-e a borászkodáshoz, járt-e ki a szőlőjébe, vagy csak a borát fogyasztotta, nem tudjuk. A kapitány személye is csak most, hat évszázaddal később vált érdekessé, amióta sok szekszárdi borásznak van szőlője a völgyben. „Mi is most kezdtünk a dűlő eredetének utánanézni” – mondja Sebestyén Csilla, aki testvérével, Csabával merlot-t, cabernet franc-t és cabernet sauvignont öt éve, kadarkát és kékfrankost idén telepített a dűlőbe „Új telepítés, új felfedezés számunkra a Porkoláb-völgy. 3 hektárnyi területen dolgozunk, de számos neves borászcsaládnak vannak ültetvényei ebben a közel 100 hektáros völgyben. A talajban lévő mészkőbabák aránya itt magasabb a többi dűlőnkéhez képest, mellette vörösagyag is van a löszön kívül. Mineralitása emeli a savérzetet, elegáns, viszonylag korán fogyasztható bor készül innen. Ha egymásnál kóstolunk, szinte mindig kitaláljuk, hogy ez a Porkolábról van. A hosszú távú tervünk, hogy egyszer bikavért is készítsünk majd a dűlőből…”



Maga az ördög szántotta?
Ördögárok-dűlő, Günzer Zoltán Pincészet, Villány


There have been grapes here since the reign of Emperor Probus in the 3rd century, but Porkoláb-völgy (porkoláb earlier meant sentinel, now captain of a castle) was only named in the 15th century. It wasn’t named after the sentinel watching out over the hill or the guard of the local prison, rather it was named after Kelemen Berzsenyi Porkoláb, sub-prefect of Tolna county, Bátaszék’s governor and its castle’s captain. Captain Porkoláb became a vineyard owner in 1457, but we don’t know whether he had any clue about winemaking or whether he visited the vineyard or just consumed its wine. Captain Porkoláb, the man, became interesting six centuries later, ever since a lot of Szekszárd winemakers started to have vineyards in the valley. “We’ve just started checking out the vineyard’s origin,” says Csilla Sebestyén, who alongside her brother planted Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon five years ago, and Kadarka and Kékfrankos this year in the vineyard. “This tiny parcel in the Porkoláb-völgy is a new plantation, a new discovery for us. Only 2 hectares. The Taklers also have land here in this smaller part of the large valley. But a lot of Szekszárd winemakers have vineyards and wines from here, and when we taste them together, we almost always find out if a wine is from the Porkoláb. It has outstanding limestone content, beside the limestone ‘dolls’ the soil is red clay. Nicely mineral, not too acidic, but elegant wines can be made from it, and they can be consumed young. It doesn’t start out as a vineyard-selected wine, but we really like it. The long term plan is to make Bikavér from here, too…”



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