Badacsony wine region
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Archeological finds in the area attest to a flourishing viticulture 2000 years ago courtesy of the Romans, who built one of their military routes skirting Mount Badacsony. This road is known today as Római-út, and is still in use. The Hungarian Occupation of the Homeland at the end of the 9th century did not interfere with the legacy of viticulture that had continued unbroken since Antiquity. Charters from the 13th century show that some of the vineyards in the area were owned by the Church, while others belonged to the Altyusz family who built the fortified castle of Szigliget and the Almád monastery near Monostorapáti. Already at this time, some of the local wines ended up on the tables of the Royal court.
As a region that fell into the végvár belt, a zone marked by a string of fortified castles on the fringes of Hungarian-controlled territory, Badacsony became half depopulated and its viticulture declined during the wars against occupying Ottoman Turks in the 16 th and 17th centuries. The area recuperated in the 18th century, when new plantation and more modern viticultural methods led to the production of wines that ultimately made Badacsony famous. A number of aristocratic families, some based well outside of the region, maintained estates and press houses on these hills.
At the time, the wine region stretched all the way along the northern shore, and was known as Balatonmelléke (“Balaton District,” a name officially applied today to the wine producing areas of Zala County west of the Lake). Mátyás Bél, the notable Lutheran pastor, educator, and encyclopedist of the first half of the 18th century, observed that “the endless wine hills flanking the northern shore of Lake Balaton generally yield wines of quite a noble stature, hut the very hest come from the hills at Badacsony, Szent György, and Kővágóörs. The fruit of these hills tastes so delicious that the wines it makes are certainly among the best-known in the country, if not necessarily the ultimate among them…” This excellence and reputation probably rested on the fact that these hillsides were excellent sites for hosting botrytis—as they are today. Another special product of the region was the ürmös, a bitter-sweet wine made from aromatic grapes, dark for preference, sweetened with honey or must concentrate, and flavored with herbs, in particular wormwood. First mentioned in 1788, ürmös was often sold in pharmacies due to its alleged curative powers.
Badacsony was designated as a wine region during the Reform Era of the 19th century. What János Nagyváthy in 1819 called the “Badacsony Wine Region” was a vast wine-producing belt from Egregy to Felsőörs that probably comprised nearly 5,000 hectares.
The region’s communes, which belong to Veszprém County administratively, include Ábrahámhegy, Badacsonytomaj, Badacsonytör-demic, Balatonszepezd, Gyulakeszi, Hegymagas, Káptalantóti, Kisapáti, Kővágóörs, Nemesgulács, Raposka, Révfülöp, Salföld, Szigliget, and Tapolca. The vineyards here have never been relegated to the bottom of the basins; in addition to Mount Badacsony, they occupy the slopes of the following hills: Tóti, Szent György, Szigliget, Csobánc, Gulács, Haláp, Örsi, and Ábrahám. The sites making up the wine region total 4,772 hectares, including 3,462 ha classified as Class I. However, only 1,790 hectares of this potential area are actually planted with vines.
By the 18th century, the Kéknyelű had emerged as the most expressive grape of the region. Although its distinct Badacsony character was universally touted, Kéknyelű was really confined to the estates of the aristocracy who could afford to indulge this noble, but naturally low-yielding variety. The bulk of production continued to rely on other ancient Hungarian grape varieties, notably the Szigeti or Fehér Furmint, which was planted in mixed lots with Juhfark and Sárfehér in an attempt to emulate the day’s famous white blends of the same composition from Somló and Neszmély. Along with Kéknyelű, these three grapes were widely regarded as yielding the finest wine of Badacsony. In the 19th century, Furmint was superseded by Olaszrizling and a fad for the red Kékoportó. Another grape unique to Badacsony was the Budai Zöld, planted in mixed lots with Kéknyelű to help fertilize this pistillate variety. The leading variety today is Olaszrizling (1,032 ha), followed by Rizlingszilváni (89 ha), Szürkebarát (86 ha), Chardonnay (145 ha), and Muscat Ottonel (45 ha). In addition to these prevalent grapes, small patches remain of Budai Zöld, Furmint, and Kéknyelű.
At the end of the 19th century, phylloxera destroyed almost all the vines in Badacsony and the Kál Basin. Retaining walls supporting the terraces were built to prevent erosion as part of the reconstruction effort. New wine legislation in 1893 recommended only white varieties for plantation, effectively transforming Badacsony into an exclusively white wine-producing area as we know it today. In 1936, the region was buildings. Characteristically, the ensuing decades of “goulash communism” failed to come up with any new value to redeem the obliterated assets of nature, scenery, and economy that had evolved together to form an organic whole. To add insult to injury, the relative boom in the tourism industry enslaved the wines to a miserably substandard market. At their best, Badacsony wines are typically full-bodied and rich in extract, alcohol, and titrable acidity. As a result, they tend to cellar well, typically taking two or three years to reach their peak of development, and sustaining that quality for quite some time after that. The most famous wines, going back a hundred years, have been the Badacsonyi Olaszrizling, the Badacsonyi Szürkebarát, and the Badacsonyi officially renamed Badacsony-Balatonfiired-Csopak, but it retained the villages of the Kal Basin—only to lose them shortly after with its subsequent division in 1941.
In those days, occasional ridge tillage, narrow spacing, stake support, regular horned head training, and short spur pruning still characterized local cultivation methods. With the stepped-up conversion of the Lake Balaton area into a resort zone after the Great War, many of the best growing sites fell victim to an explosion of weekend cottages. In the wake of forced collectivization under the single-party state, the combined lack of spiritual attachment and market demand for quality wines led to the destruction of vineyards and unique winery Kéknyelű, distinguished by its spicy bouquet. This latter variety had drifted to the brink of extinction by the end of the 20th century, for obvious reasons of economies. Kéknyelű is a very problematic grape that has female (pistillate) flowers only, leading to a difficult berry set. Even if it gets the special care it needs, it remains a low producer, and will only reward the effort if the market is willing to pay a higher price for the wine. Thanks to new plantation, Kéknyelű has sprung back to some 10 hectares in Badacsony, from the dangerously low hectare.
Area: 1790 hectares.
Climate: consolidated, with sub-mediterranean character, lot of sunshine, sheltered from northern wind.
Vine varieties, wines: Italian Riesling: most wide-spread – mild, soft acid, resembling bitter almonds in bouquet. In good vintages “Aszú” is made of it as well. Szürkebarát – the most famous: aroma-full, warming, harmonious, round wine with high alcohol contents in this region. Kéknyelű – “upper-class vine” – good quality, but poor vintage because gets fertile hard. Discreet with spicy bouquet and noble elegance. Ottonel Muscat – fine Muscat aroma, warming, sometimes mild, poorly acidic.
For more interesting information:
> Hungarian wines and wineregions (authors: Zoltán Benyák, Tibor Dékány)
> Terra Benedicta 2003: Tokaj and Beyond (authors: Rohály Gábor, Mészáros Gabriella, Nagymarosy András)