Eastern promise

18 September, 2012

Figula Wines in Balatonfüred on Lake Balaton, Hungary

With ProWein 2013 in mind, Thomas Brandl finds out how winemakers in central and south-eastern Europe have made efforts to modernise and become more competitive.

The two brothers Mihaly (33) and Janos Figula (30) of Figula Wines in Balatonfüred on Lake Balaton are a good example of the dynamic momentum we can expect to see among winegrowers in central and south-eastern Europe today.

Their father, Hungary’s Winegrower of the Year in 2000, died at an early age in 2008, and when the two sons inherited the estate, they gradually expanded the business – now 30 hectares – and invested plenty of money in state-of-the-art technology.

Moreover, they increased the quality of their products to the highest international standards. A new visitors’ centre with a wine tasting room and a reception area is currently being built for the steadily growing number of Figula wine enthusiasts.

The two brothers specialise in powerful, full-bodied Welschrieslings and white cuvées. Their Szileniusz already has a certain cult status inHungary, with only one potential competitor: a Welschriesling called Olasz from the Arácsi Hills, with its 80 to 100-year-old grapes.

“We want to bring back our indigenous wine culture,” says Janos, who is both a winegrower and a concert musician. “Sadly, so much has been lost after 40 years of socialism.” It is no mean achievement that a fifth of all Figula wines are already being exported to other countries, mainly to the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The two brothers from Balatonfüred are not the only positive examples. Quite a few others can be found elsewhere in Hungary which is gradually beginning to wake up from its long, deep slumber. 31-year-old Bence Laposa owns a vineyard in Badacsony, in the south-western corner of Lake Balaton – a gleaming business that produces white wines with an extremely high mineral content.

His wines are made from indigenous grapes such as Juhfark, Keknyelü and Hárslevelü, though also from Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) grapes. The basalt soil in Badacsony adds a special, distinctive note to these wines. Bence Laposa learned his craft in Langenlois in the Kamp Valley in Austria – and you can tell straightaway.

150 km further east, in the red wine town of Szekszárd, a real quality revolution has been in progress for 10 years now. Influenced greatly by the German Danube-Swabian tradition, this little town can even boast two Hungarian “Winegrowers of the Year” – Ferenc Takler (2004) and Peter Vida (2011). Year after year this title is awarded to an outstanding winegrower by the Hungarian Wine Academy.

Like in the renowned wine-growing region of Villány near the Croatian border in southern Hungary, the Szekszárd region mainly specialises in red wines, mostly fiery, full-bodied and quite often with an alcohol content of at least 14%. “It goes nicely with our spicy cuisine,” says Peter Vida. Until recently the high-class Cuvées wines from the Szekszárd region – mainly Cabernet, Merlot, Kékfrankos and Kadarka grapes – have been selling more or less without any problems on the domestic market, despite their upscale price range. However, the current economic crisis is now presenting new challenges to winegrowers wanting to export their products.

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