Wines without borders
There are many legends linked to the name of Roland Velich, as usually happens with iconic winemakers. What’s for certain is that he grew up in Burgenland, he was once a ski instructor and a croupier, and that he had already been making Chardonnay, on the family estate with his brothers, when nobody else did in the wine region. Then, after an about-turn, he founded his own Blaufränkisch-based estate, called Moric. He is a polarising and unavoidable character in Austrian wine, and since recently also in Hungarian wine, due to his new project called Hidden Treasures, which has been running for a few vintages.
Regardless of borders, Velich selects from the wine regions of the Pannonian region with the greatest history, thus alongside Tokaj – Somló and the Csobánc also appeared within a small inner-circle. The mastermind behind the wines is Roland, their carer from harvest to ageing as the winemaker, and the end result comes out as the common ground between the two participants at the time of blending, following a long tasting together.
The label of Hidden Treasures is rare to come across on Hungarian shelves. Roland’s network of connections – consisting of chefs, sommeliers, winemakers and wine traders – is a thick web through which these bottles quickly find their place in the outstanding restaurants of 30-40 countries around the world. We, almost just for fun, selected for a brief appearance two that were meant for the export market, and we also talked to Roland Velich and two winemakers about the wines and the collaboration.
The place that is ours
“The place that is ours is fantastic the way it is. The basic concept of Hidden Treasures is to show this. Because even today, there are many who don’t place trust in the local qualities, the local varieties and often in themselves. It’s due to the fact that for a long time the region has been trying to copy wine styles that were foreign to the place, in order to satisfy foreign demands. I think the Bordeaux- and the Tuscan-style big reds, the full-bodied Merlots and the majority of the sweet wines also belong to this group, in my view. All were such that we don’t really need them, because they were not about us. In the case of such wines, identity gets lost in translation. I think now the time has come to look back, to see where we come from. The aim of the project is to change the usual language and to give a new narrative to the region’s wine culture – to the wine culture that luckily doesn’t know borders and is common to the whole of the Pannonian region. In all the wines of the collaboration, the main role is that of the given place, not of the winery or myself. I only work with those who from their personalities understand that the identity of the place should be placed before the personal style.”
“My friendship with Roland goes back 20 years. We spent a lot of time together around 2002, when the first vintages of Moric were bottled. We got together a lot and I can honestly say that I profited a lot from his ideas and recommendations. Even back then, we agreed that the Csobánc is a unique place where world-class Rizling (Olaszrizling) can be made. He was also enthusiastic about them. Then, for some time, our lives took different directions, we had less time to talk about wine, but I think we also benefited from finding our own paths.
He first talked about Hidden Treasures in 2015. It soon turned serious and we defined right at the start that Rizling will play an important role, as it’s a great tool to give a place back. And the blend’s Pannonian vein is the Furmint. There’s no other blend like this. We surprised a lot of people with it but I still think that we should concentrate on the root of the progress and not the starting point: we blend it from the best barrels without any formula, usually the two varieties in equal proportions. It’s a long process, Roland and myself have just finished compiling the 2019 vintage, here at the cellar last week.”
Lichtenberger & González
“We started the family winery with a barrel and 300 bottles of wine in 2009. Since then, we’ve got hold of several old plots, among them 60-70-year old plantations. And Roland got in touch with the idea of a collaboration last year. He wanted to work with young winemakers from characteristic places, and the majority of our grapes are in Breitenbrunn, close to the lake, in warmer locations with calcareous soil.
Hidden Treasures is a blend of our most important plots, made, from a winemaking point of view, in the simplest possible way. We are a family winery, it’s really ourselves who work with the wine in the cellar. At the time of fermenting, I find it important to feel the cap and the consistency of the fermenting juice. Based on that, I know when we should not move the cap anymore and intervene as we endeavour to macerate it briefly and move it only a little. After fermentation, we leave it on lees for a year. Based on the parameters, our wine matches the principles of the strictest natural wines, but that’s not what defines us. We would probably work the same way if the world was not going into that direction.”
A rare blend from the Csobánc, from equal proportions of the two varieties, made in the winery’s usual method: organic growing, hand harvest, gravitational vinification and spontaneous fermentation in the best barrels.
Flowers, wet stone, green herbs, smoke and sweet-and-sour harmony.
A pure Kékfrankos (Blaufrankisch) from the calcareous and warmer vineyards between the Lajta and Lake Fertő, with a thicker palate and deeper spices. A modern wine made by a young winemaker with old-school winemaking.