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FIGULA – very much a family winery, from Balatonfüred - Bortársaság magazine

FIGULA – very much a family winery, from Balatonfüred

Theirs is a key name on the northern side of Lake Balaton, and one or two of their single-vineyard wines serve as benchmarks on the wine scene. Lately, we’ve grabbed certain details in connection with them: Hét hektár, single-vineyard selections or simply the Olaszrizing.

But now that everybody has time on their hands, we asked Misi to tell us in a bit more detail.

What’s happening in the vineyard?
Now that there’s less office work and hospitality is on hold, the whole team is working outdoors in the vineyards. The good thing is that colleagues can see each other’s work, and in the meantime bloody good questions come up. We’ve decided that we’re subordinating ourselves completely to the grapes. Nature dictates, and we do our jobs. From this point of view, the vineyard work in spring is the most exciting: by the time we finish with the binding of the vines, we can start selecting the shoots.

How can you adapt?
What we consider is how we can help the plants, for which we have thousands of options. We pay great attention to keeping all the rain for the plants: we turn the soil rarely and carefully, and as much we can, we cover it. We only use manure and we’ve been decreasing the foliage for years to slow down ripening but we also avoid sunburn because we mainly work with white varieties. Then, no matter how innovative you are and how much you keep pace with the times, there are basic truths that are constant: the vines seek nutrition and water by themselves, and the deeper the roots go down, the safer we are. That’s also why we like old vines.

Are you a classic family winery?
Dad was the face and the winemaker of the company, while mum is a strong lady, who leads from behind the scenes and has always avoided the limelight. She still does it this way even today, and is very professional. Just like an Italian mamma, she tries to make peace between the two sons. We have tons of ideas, me and my brother, János, in different dimensions. He actually studied other things. He completed his studies at ELTE University in Hungarian and Aesthetics, then got another degree in percussion instruments from the Music Academy in Graz. But obviously, he couldn’t break away from grapes.
Then, there’s József Feil, who’s a very important pillar of the company. He’s consistent, a great organiser from the first step to the last – both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Our friendship is an unprecedented story: we graduated together from the Horticultural University, where we had been friends from the first day. We’ve been working together ever since. Joci also spent his internship with us, and with a bit of a trick, I did, too. Dad encouraged us to go and check out the harvest at different wineries, but we never went anywhere else. It would’ve been hard to learn about the Balatonfüred-Csopak wine region in Burgundy. Now, the four of us, my mum, my brother, Joci and me, are trying to manage the whole thing. But if we don’t look at it based on blood ties, then our team is a lot larger. We’re like a commune. We work with skilful young people, who all want to and love to do this and everybody knows the aim exactly. For example, there are no time norms for completing a task. If we want to do something well, time is not a consideration.

You once said that even in Csopak you get homesick, and you would never change this place for another region. Supposing you started off now – how many hectares, where and with which variety would you plant?
It would definitely be an Olaszrizling-based winery and I would stay in the region. It would be slightly smaller, at around 15 hectares. But if we look at the current size – this family winery was 25 years old in 2018 and we can say there’s no such thing as a variety or winemaking method that is tried to no avail. We can learn something from both. And 30 hectares is exactly the right size. It’s not large on an international scale, or even locally.

Did you get your knowledge of the place from your grandma, Karolin Tolnay?
That’s right, the tradition comes from my mother’s side. And there’s also a great respect for our ancestors. We love, collect and cherish everything that is old. And information is such a thing. When grandma opened her mouth, everyone turned silent. We knew that she wasn’t speaking without a reason. She gave us sentences with which we could save years in experimenting. In the cellar, we tried to convert her recipes to today’s circumstances. For example, she told us that the Olaszrizling was ground into wooden vats in whole bunches and was pressed from there, and that the last press juice was always the best, because by then it had started fermenting on the skins. The same is true about the plots: the success of our vineyards is also thanks to her. They knew all the vineyards, they knew what works in which soil.

Which moment of winemaking do you love the most?
The day of the harvest itself. Earlier, we had to catch the perfect period, which could last for three to four days, now, due to global warming, we’re looking for the perfect moment. These days, it’s not the same if it’s Tuesday or Wednesday. After eight to ten trial harvests, the actual date of the harvest is a great relief.

In which phase do you enjoy the wines the most?
The last day before bottling, when on a sun-lit Wednesday, we still have a glass of it, because we know that we will bottle it on Thursday. After bottling, there are always a couple of months when we wait for the wine to return to the exact state it was in before bottling. That’s the wine we like to welcome back.

What are you experimenting with?
What excites me is what there is in the skins. I can’t let that one go. We’re trying to find the highest quality with each variety, and vineyard, with a bit of maceration and fermenting on the skins.

Where do you love seeing your wines?
Anywhere where people appreciate the work of our team and consume the wines the way they should be consumed. There are Michelin-starred restaurants around the world where they deal with our wines. Certainly, these tables are important, because they do not list the wines based on friendship and we have no tailwind at all. Yet, I would like to highlight the first sentence more. The table should be laid nicely even on a Tuesday, and we should eat and drink good things.

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