“We don’t get involved, we don’t interfere”

We were sitting with a friend of ours in Szekszárd. It was September in 2015, it was pouring rain and the harvest was in progress. “The Doc will not harvest this year either,” said the winemaker. “What Doc?” we asked. “Well, Doc Illyés in the Porkoláb Valley. He grows organically and hardly sprays at all. If it’s a good year, he’s got good wine, but if it’s like it is now, the rain takes it all.” At the next harvest, we were already there in the small, tech-free Illyés cellar, tasting from all the barrels, and buying some Kadarka. Now, we’ve signed up two wines from 2017, quite literally. We wrote the name Bortársaság on the barrel, and Miklós has bottled them as he always does. Directly from the barrel, straight into the bottle without filtering and fining, the same way all of his wines are made. When they are made.

I’m obsessed with health

“I’m a Cuman [a nomadic Turkic people, some of whom settled on Hungary’s Great Plain] and during my childhood everything was flat as far as the eye could see. Unsurprisingly, when I purchased a tiny farm in the Porkoláb Valley due to being pressurised by a friend, I felt like I was surrounded by hills. I was first offered a Szekszárd Kadarka at one of my cardiology lectures: the first mouthful had such power that three years later, in 2007, I made my first wine. I’m a cardiologist, I’m obsessed by health, so after the first few years, when I felt the smell of the spray, it wasn’t even a question that I would go organic in my tiny vineyard. I opted for manual work with the help of my friend, Laci. We do it in a laid-back manner, we don’t stick to local ways: Kadarka can have botrytis if nature wants it that way, it can be made in barrels because for me it needs some chocolaty aromas and it can have sediment and tartrate crystals, if that’s the price of not filtering and fining it. We harvest late, we pick what the weather, nature, the pheasants and the deer leave behind. There are times when our local peers laugh at us. If it rains during the autumn, they say that Doc Illyés won’t harvest anything. For me this is yield control. We don’t get involved, we don’t interfere.”

 

A sensitive and vulnerable creature

“We cultivate the grapes 100% organically, supervised by Biokontroll Hungária. We do minimal work on the soil by hand, at the bottom of the rows. The soil cover is the local flora. My grapes can be recognised from far away because in the eastern location, the bottom of the vines are protected by blue boxes from pests. The key of our cultivation is the work in the vineyard and the opening up of the bunch zones. In the windy Porkoláb Valley, the danger of infection lessens, such organic treatments as sulphur, copper and orange oil can reach the bunches. We sort during the hand harvest, we pick ripe bunches, often shrivelled parts. The grapes are as sensitive and vulnerable creatures as humans. They only function well when they are healthy, and they are healthy if they are not filled with antibiotics and chemicals.”

 

“Technology

is locked out. I don’t let it into the cellar and this type of wine doesn’t even require it. I couldn’t even fit it in, and it would rather take away than add anything. We have no pump, no temperature control, no pouring-over or micro-oxidation. We have our hands, the vat and the barrel. The cork and the bottle at the end. Following destemming and crushing, the must ferments in vats inoculated by a South African yeast that I chose and fell for. The aim is steady and quick fermentation. After the fermentation, in an oxygen-free environment we macerate the wine-mash the traditional way with punch down for three to four weeks. During this time the malic acid goes down naturally. That’s how I can maximise the most important element of red wines – the high resveratrol and flavonoid content, which is how the wine can become healthy and natural. I think the only job of the winemaker is to protect the grape, and not to damage or poison it. Then with controlled fermentation, maximum cleanliness and minimal intervention – to make the best possible wine from it. The long extraction defines our style – there are some who like it, and there are some who don’t. For me as a doctor, it’s not just its palate that is important but also its effect mechanism. The miracle is in the skins and that’s what we have to open, so that the red wine shouldn’t just be delicious but also healthy.”

 

Barrel is necessary

“When we let the wine down from the vat, we put it into two- to three- year-old barrels made by Swabian coopers in Mecseknádasd. We bottle it by hand straight from the barrel without fining or filtering. If the wine is good it remains stable in the bottle. If there are tartrates or sediment in the bottom of the bottle, it proves we didn’t pester, we didn’t torture the wine. We fill, label and cork by hand.”

 

“The nicest

from the beginning has been the Kadarka, beside it the Pinot Noir. I bought the clones from Pál Kozma, a resistant variety shaped by him. Before he sold it to me, he came here, checked the soil, the cellar, and tasted the wines. Even these days, he comes twice a year. I believe in this variety: during the first two vintages, we didn’t touch it once. We didn’t spray it, not even with sulphur or copper and we could still harvest it. Now, I’m the proudest of this one, but it wasn’t just us it required – the Porkoláb Valley, this fantastic place of growth was also necessary.