Béla and Bandi
You only need to meet them once to remember: Béla is the winemaker, Bandi is the grape grower. They were born and bred in Balatonszőlős. They are level-headed and it’s hard to distract them, yet they experiment every day, reacting to the environment in their own naturalistic way.
“Béla and Bandi are like two Chekhovian figures,” says Zoli, our photographer. And there’s some truth in it. They act in an extremely comfortable and practical way in their own surroundings, but they talk about the ‘border’ between Tótvázsony and Balatonszőlős as if it separated two different worlds. The other thing is that had it not been for Béla and Bandi, Gellavilla might not have existed in its current form in Balatonszőlős, either. Indeed, besides their own, they have also been cultivating Gellavilla’s vineyards since the beginning (1998). And vice versa, were it not for Gellavilla, it’s possible that there would be no Béla and Bandi wine, with their tractor on the label, in the wine shops and restaurants.
Silence is not awkward for Béla and Bandi. They prefer not to speak, unless it’s necessary. Bandi noted that he isn’t keen on questions, either. Yet, he’s the one who speaks more this time. Maybe it’s because of his sorrow that these days less is written about tractor drivers than winemakers.
Have you always lived in Balatonszőlős?
Béla: Yes, our family was distinguished in the village. Back in our grandparents’ day, it didn’t require money, but one had to work well. One needed to be familiar with the place, with the weather and the plots. One had to know what was worth planting and where. And we started from scratch in 1991.
Bandi: Our Sauvignon is 50-60-years old, that’s where we started out from, it’s the heart and soul of the estate. It’s an enclosure surrounded by forests without dusty roads and neighbours. Back then, the variety was rare in the country – apart from ourselves, possibly only Tibor Báthori worked with it, in Etyek.
All of your vineyards are here around the village: the Gella, the Száka, the Barátszőlő, the Málnás and the Sóskút. Is it because of emotional or practical reasons?
Béla: We never wanted to cultivate anything other than the plots that used to belong to the family.
Bandi: For me, it’s important to know what the weather is exactly like in the vineyard. This way I can hop on any of my tractors and go out to the vineyards at any time. I have five tractors, all equipped with different tools, so I just have to switch to another one, when it’s needed.
Béla summed things up this way once: “I’m in charge of the cellar, my brother is in charge of the vineyards.” Why did it happen this way?
Bandi: When our dad had to be relieved, we needed a tractor driver. Out of the two of us, I'm the more technically-minded, while Béla has a better palate. The other thing is that I need freedom. I can’t work in the cellar, so I don’t get involved with winemaking. After the harvest, the next time I see the grapes is in my glass, at the table. But at those times, I can feel that I’m always a part of these wines as well.
What’s the most important consideration in the vineyard?
Bandi: One has to be there all the time, because at some point, the whole thing is improvisation. For me, it’s also important that the plots have their own atmosphere. Today, only a couple of types of seed mixes can be bought. If everywhere we were to sow the same seeds for cover crops as the neighbours do, everybody’s plots would look the same. I usually grow a couple of other plants that have different colour flowers. It’s important that the vineyard is nice to look at. I need to like it as I spend almost 365 days a year out there.
How do you adapt to changes?
Bandi: I don’t like stress in the vineyards. If I sprayed the warm leaves in the daytime with 20-degree water, it would indeed hurt the plants. That’s why I do plant protection at night. We’ve also changed a little when it comes to pruning: sometimes I do two to three different ways of pruning in one plot, depending on the place of the vines, the soil and the exposure.
Favourite work in the vineyard/cellar?
Béla: When the cellar is emptied in August and we’re bottling. That’s always what I look forward to the most because a process becomes finished. Then, the next harvest starts and we usually work on it for a month without stopping.
Bandi: Winter pruning, when it’s cold and snowy. I wrap myself up well, and sometimes I just do that for almost three months. If we had more vineyards, I’d lose control, but I can still manage to do it all by myself. I know every vine. To some extent it’s art, like making sculptures. Only, that I work with living matter.