Konyári – Twenty years with Bordeaux varieties
It was 2003, the harvest had already started, when at the end of the day Dani Konyári was driving up to Budapest, wondering what it would be like falling asleep while driving. He was woken up realising that his pick-up mirror was taken by a road sign.
Thirty cases of Chardonnay travelled on the cargo bed, and back then Bortársaság ordered this way from the several-hectare large winery’s first vintages.
We’ve been working with Konyári wines for 20 years – we were there at the first breaking ground on Kishegy when the winery was being built. Since then, the winery’s most important wine has become Loliense – the new 2019 vintage of which has arrived, and the bottles have been given a new label after several years. Without any special preparation, we went to Kishegy and spent a day with Dani Konyári.
Dani never talks about ideologies, instead he speaks about honest winemaking, straightforward and good things from which such classics as Loliense have been created in the last 20 years. In the meantime, we find out that he has a life aside from wine, what truly occupies him, why he would like to have fewer vineyards and what sense of proportion works in him in connection to the environment.
I always had to work in the vineyards, and in the cellar, helping Dad. It was far from romantic, and nobody asked me if I wanted to scrape the tartar from the side of the concrete vat with a scraper. But in 1993, with my dad and uncle, we went to Bordeaux. We’d travelled a lot even before that, but that’s when I first realised what this profession meant. Ever since then, I’ve liked fresh Sauvignon Blanc-based whites and work with Cabernet-based full-bodied reds, Bordeaux varieties. Maybe if I’d gone to Burgundy first, I’d like Pinot Noir now, which I never really liked. On the way there, we travelled through Alsace, then stopped in Paris. It was June, Music Day and we drank white wine and ate cheese next to the Seine. In 1993, at the age of 16, ‘escaping’ from the then Hungary to see this world was a big thing.
We came up with the whole thing out of the blue. There was arable land at the edge of the village in Kislak, on which we planned a guesthouse with a farm building, plus we had a hectare and a half vineyard. I was harvesting in the US, when in 2001 September the Twin Towers fell. As soon as the airports opened, I bought a ticket from Lufthansa for the first European flight. I transferred in Munich, and when I got back, the first night I was already at a Félix Lajkó concert at the Music Academy. The next day I was riding my motorbike on the hill here, entered the gate and saw this terrace on the hillside and I recalled gravity-flow winemaking, which Anne Moller-Racke, my former boss at the Buena Vista winery in California, talked so much about. Me and my dad quickly found out who owned the plot. We managed to make a deal and we threw away the tender in Kislak and the building permission. We dived in at the deep end. In 2003, the joiners were still hammering on the roof when the first batch of Loliense raw material turned in the corner. The whole thing started from one and a half hectares, and we thought about having 18-20 hectares, which soon turned out to be 45. Now, we’ve finally managed to cut down to 32 hectares.
I swapped vineyards for a flowery meadow.We harvest from less land but what’s left is closer to us and we undoubtedly use nature during the work. I don’t aim to cultivate organically, instead I have my own projects with which I try to balance monoculture and the environmental pressure: I swap vineyards for a flowery meadow. They planted vines everywhere here in the 50s, animal farming ceased and such pastures as the ones around the Landord pool disappeared. These are the things we try to restore wherever we can, we dug out the pool again, and during my childhood there was a nice field on the top of János Hill that had become overgrown, which I exchanged with three hectares of vineyards so that I could restore it to its original form. It’s a great expense that will never return but if one or two butterflies fly over it and a deer appears, it’s been worth it for me.
During that much time a routine is formed – 20 years is 20 years. I know what to pick after what. But, of course, there aren’t things carved into stone, nor such that we have to come up with in a given moment. There aren’t great dilemmas and I don’t want to experiment with new varieties, new blends. There are only two things that I’d like to try: a basket press for the big reds and I’d like to stop pumping. Neither of them can be described in terms of what they give to the wines, but I know that Vega Sicilia and Cos d’Estournel do it this way, and I often ask the opinion of Dominique Arangoïts [at Cos d’Estournel]. And these two estates are at the top of this category, nothing happens by accident. I often drink their wines, one of my favourites is Pintia, and last Friday I tasted it with the Páva and the 2016 Cos d’Estournel, to which Robert Parker gave 100 points. Not because I wanted to compete with the two but to see where we are in the world. And these two estates are not a target of where I want to get to, they are simply what I like and I love it when I find this quality in my own wines.
“The two Lolienses form the backbone of the selection and the two have been made the same way ever since the first vintages,” says Dani Konyári. The winery’s most important wine is the red Loliense, from which the first vintage was the 2000, but since 2003, it has also been made as a white blend in the gravity-flow method, which was developed in that year. Since then, all the grapes harvested are meant for these two wines, but of course preparing for the case scenario when based on the substance and the structure, there will be wines which don’t fit into the Loliense picture.
The largest part of the white, almost 40% of it, is always provided by the Sauvignon Blanc, and the rest is Chardonnay and Olaszrizling in varying proportions. The three varieties are often harvested within one or two days, sometimes the Chardonnay and the Olaszrizling are fermented together. Ever since the first vintage, it has been made reductively in tanks, it’s never had an oaked component, and the three varieties are blended right after fermentation as a new wine. It hardly ages longer than the winery’s fresh white wine, the Fecske, but it’s still a lot softer and more layered, with broader flavours, owing to the fine lees ageing.
It’s a red wine cellar, thus out of the two, the red Loliense is the greater classic. It has been one of the best Hungarian examples of a Bordeaux-style blend for many years. After the 2017, the 2019 has again brought such flavours that make for one of the most beautiful Lolienses, by the blending of 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 26% Cabernet Franc. It has a warm and friendly palate, is by no means heavy, but instead lively with very good posture. It shows its best form after half a day of breathing, with cassis, blackberry and all sorts of black fruits appearing on the deliciously juicy palate. The bottles are sealed with TCA-free corks and thick tin capsules, and according to ourselves the new label is so great, it’s as if it had always been on the bottle of this iconic wine.