The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
It’s not a rare occurrence that during our winery visits to see sparkling-eyed young people plodding away next to the winemaker, initially observing from a distance, and with time taking part in the conversations more and more actively.
Many of them grew up in front of our eyes and have become important figures in winemaking. Now, we’ve asked both the winemakers and their sons and daughters to recall those experiences they felt while making the first wines on their own. They are all different winemakers, from different times and regions, what’s common in each wine (and offspring) is that their fathers have been very proud of them from the beginning.
“1986. That’s when we planted our first Ezerjó plantation. It’s a plateau on Vén Hill, on a loess, clay plot that warms up easily. That was what the family could buy at the time. The first wine from here was born right at the time of the political transition. It was the first wine of a typical hobby winery. It was an Ezerjó that was spontaneously fermented in small oak barrels, in which it was also aged. We wanted a proper wine that family members could drink proudly in large sips. It wasn’t even bottled. It ran out at home.”
“In a stubborn manner, I bought a cellar under Ezerjó utca 3 in 2001. And my first ‘own child’, my own first wine was the 2005 Csoda. It was an Ezerjó made from old vines, with high acidity, high sugar, and from stony soil. It was spontaneously fermented and spent a few months in oak barrels. In the end, I wrote on the barrel: ‘It’s a miracle I didn’t spoil it’. But it would have been too long for a name, so it simply became ‘miracle’ [csoda in Hungarian]. The label for it was composed by Géza Ipacs.”
“We didn’t make wine at home during my childhood, so I’m winemaker who studied the profession. I only teach garage winemaking, I’m trying to convince everyone who has some vines to try making wine at home. Anyone who spends a couple of hours at my cellar, leaves with this message. We started off in ‘93 but my first real Wine experience, with a capital ‘W’, was the 2000 Mandolás. Unfortunately, only a few collectors have some of it by now, and I rarely have the opportunity to taste it again, but it’s still a big wine. We’ve changed a lot since then, we’ve refined: old Furmint clones with smaller, airier bunches selected from old vines, better fermentation, more perfect must settling, more sophisticated ageing in the barrels – these have all contributed to us being able to refine Mandolás to perfection. I have evidently been going to Burgundy more in the last 20 years.”
András Bacsó Jnr.
“I first made wine with dad. It was a red. I was nine years old and dad taught me how to use the wine thief, how to do pour over with a rubber tube and how to press, so everything on a small scale. We had some vines in Bodrogolaszi and Tolcsva, Kékfrankos, possibly Kadarka and red Chasselas. I think we made good wines. The relatives drank it. Then, when I went to Burgundy to a small winery for an internship, this ‘garage winemaking’ experience came in fantastically handy. Now, things are coming full circle, with dad and a red wine again: we are making Pinot Noir together at Oremus, from the picking through ageing, to the blending of the barrels. Of course, it’s completely different than it was at the age of nine. I already have my own opinion, my own experiences, but the arguments and the differences in opinion serve the benefit of the wine. It’s exciting that in this context, disagreeing often opens up new avenues and takes us forward.
“Our story sounds cracked, but maybe that makes it authentic: I’m not a winemaker, only a grape grower. Of course, I grew into it, I drank my first pálinka (fruit brandy) at the age of four, my father was a grape farmer too, but there has always been someone next to me who physically made the wine that I conjured up. In ‘93 our trio came: the Bikavér, the Merlot and the Chardonnay. I do remember that someone at the Hotel Forum sent a Bikavér back because it had a Chardonnay label on it. It was a strong start. For 10 years, we didn’t even like our own wines, I only saw the faults in them. The first time I noticed that they were getting nice was in 2003. The first Cervus, the Merlot-Syrah Stílusgyakorlat…”
Zoltán Heimann Jnr
“Genetics are inherited: when I came back home in 2015, I also criticized everything that dad did. I wanted to grub up the Merlot, I got involved with everything. You just lean back, I said to mum and dad, I’ll deal with it… Then in the middle of the harvest, we had to call the crisis management team together. I cooled down a bit, now I don’t get involved in everything. Today, the most exciting two topics for me are Kadarka and Kékfrankos. Maybe the 2015 Céh-kereszt was the first wine of my own, the first that was really ‘mine’. It was a new colour, maybe even a new level in Kadarka. I brought new Burgundy barrels into the cellar, it was a great experience but I would do the Kadarka differently now: in large, used barrels, with shorter ageing, the same way they used to do it with the variety in the old times. I’m following new ways, but by today, I’ve learnt to respect the values of the old ways. Easy-handed winemaking, whole-bunch pressing, spontaneous fermentation, open towards organic growing but everything with consideration, step by step.”
“1992. A blend of Kékfrankos-Merlot with a touch of Cabernet was the first wine. At the time it wasn’t allowed to write the word cuvée on it, so I wrote Cuvée. There were tiny plots in Leányvár and Harc and a tiny press house. A small press, a wooden vat, I ground the grapes, I have to admit that, but when the stems are ripe, the stump is brown, it’s not a disadvantage but an advantage – my son, Bence, talks a lot about whole-bunches and stems. I did it with punch down, it fermented by itself, there was enough yeast. Then I filtered it, bottled it and Bortársaság took it. Well, that’s how I started with the first wine.
“After school, Tomi [Bence’s brother] and I pruned and sprinkled water on the tanks, because that’s the way we cooled them down back then, and dad constantly let me get closer and closer to wine. Kékfrankos was the first one. I was still at school, but I did the punching down on my own. I’ve been obsessed with the variety ever since, something clicked then. “I do it the same way today: in vats, treaded by foot, small whole-bunches with stems. There are battles, but dad lets me do more and more experiments. I spend the whole day in the cellar, the family doesn’t see a lot of things. Then they click their fingers, saying how good a wine has become. And I smile for having pushed the boundaries again. So, Kékfrankos has been a love ever since my first wine. I think it’s because we are identical. It’s wilful, it requires a lot of work, likes to remain in the background in blends, a bit sharp but it suits it.”
“The first? Of course, it was a Villány Oportó (Portugieser). It was 1987, the wine was vintage ‘86. Well, honestly, it looked pretty bad, but in return it was very, very delicious. It was made the way I could make it in my father-in-law’s cellar: it already grew on a cordon but with a larger yield than today. A small press, a vat. It was fermented as God intended. If it wasn’t too warm, it became really good, but when it was really warm in the autumn, there was a bit of sugar left in it. By today, mostly the environment has changed: the wine ferments in temperature-controlled tanks, we can manage its birth perfectly, earlier it aged in 500-litre barrels, while today, it rounds out in large barrels. No matter what, my favourite is still the Oportó, even today.”
“It’s not the first wine that is the most memorable but the first variety that I fought for against dad. I love Syrah, Rhône, the southern Rhône is my favourite. In 2004, we planted Tempranillo and Syrah in the Konkoly vineyard, on a higher, cooler plot that is close to the forest. I knew it would be good all the way, but dad just couldn’t find himself in it and wanted to graft over it by all means. I fought for six years, we tasted, sought out the harvest date, its nicest form, the best barrels, the length of ageing. Dad only admitted that it was good in 2012. It needed that vintage, so that I found the right time of the harvest and that we didn’t just put it into new barrels but also used ones. It became as elegant as the Rhône wines, complemented with our sunshine.”
“1998 was the vintage when I joined in with my dad. We did it together on two hectares. Until then, we’d never bottled our wine. The family worked on the grapes throughout the year and in the end, we got something for the wine. For a family estate of this size, the only breakout point could have been bottled wine. Eventually, we poured the ‘98 Olaszrizling, from one hectare, from three parcels. We ground the grapes, pressed, then it was fermented spontaneously in dad’s 12-13-hectolitre barrels. There was no cooling, nor filtering or fining. The elderly local people still do it this way on the hill.”
Gyula Pálffy Jnr.
“I joined an ongoing process in 2013, since then we’ve been developing the winery together. And the big work started in 2015, which was when we started working in the Mező-mál. We expanded by 10 hectares. The blending of the estate wines required more serious attention from then on. Of course, we decided together about everything, but I coordinated the process, so I felt it as my own.”
“It was the 2015 vintage. That was when myself and Pisti Bencze ordered our first amphorae from France, when we started working in the Mező-mál with the family. Syrah was one of my favourites, so after the traditional vat-fermentation, manual punching down and pressing, it was what we put into the amphorae. Half a hectare, 200 litres altogether. Finally, in order to balance it out, we blended it with a barrel-made Syrah. I handled it, I watched it. That was the wine that started me off
The first real moment regarding my own wine was when I was sitting on the small farm that used to be on the site of today’s cellar on Decsi Hill, staring at our tanks for hours trying to figure out what to put into the Bikavér. Back then, we harvested all the grapes from all the plots separately, and I made them separately in the cellar as well. Today, I decide about the blend together with my son, Ferkó, so I don’t contemplate it on my own, however, he doesn’t make it any easier for me. I mean he does: he picks all the plots in five or six harvests and tends to all the wines separately until blending. That’s how much the world has changed.
Ferenc Takler Jnr.
It was the 1988 vintage. I was about 16, dad had a few Medoc grapes from which he made rosé. In the mist of several fights, I literally stole a few buckets of grapes from under his arm during the harvest. I pressed it in a basket press, put it into a barrel, let it ferment spontaneously, then rested it on fine lees. The family looked at me weirdly, then they came down to the cellar, dad hugged me and congratulated me. Today, I do almost everything differently with the rosé, but the urge to experiment hasn’t disappeared. A luscious Syrah rosé is ageing now in the barrel on the Decsi Hill.
When we were kids, dad put the harvesting hods onto our backs, we did everything together in the vineyard and the cellar as a trio. When we got back from school, we did the punching down and pouring over or went out into the vineyard. It lasted until 2000 with the appearance of the cellar book: dad and Ferkó got the nice part, the grapes and the wines. I got the paperwork. The first wine that I didn’t just get involved in with a hoe and a punch down paddle, but also professionally, was our 2002 Regnum. I was the Kékfrankos in the blend with 16% back then. By now, we like this style note so much that the proportion of my favourite variety has risen to 28% in the wine.