Hungarian Wine Makers Strive to Mature the Tourism Market

Drinks

On its webpage, the Vill谩ny-Sikl贸si Wine Route Association is quick to note it was the first of its kind in Hungary. Established in 1994, still a time of great economic upheaval, its members can look back with satisfaction at developments, with both southern settlements attracting thousands of visitors on summer weekends.

It鈥檚 8 a.m. and breakfast time at the Gere Tam谩s & Zsolt Di贸fa Panzi贸 in Vill谩ny, the focal point of Hungary鈥檚 most southerly wine region.

In the dining room, a group of Germans exchange words with Vikt贸ria Gere, who runs the hostelry, then rise, keen to enjoy local attractions before the temperatures soar under the summer sun.

鈥淭his group has been coming every year for five, six years,鈥 Viktoria tells the Budapest Business Journal.

Zsolt, her brother and the family winemaker, adds: 鈥淭hey sit and talk with my father in the evenings. They buy wine from us and bring beer from Germany. It鈥檚 all very friendly.鈥

Such guests are not only ideal from a social aspect: the Geres sell some 10% of their annual wine production of 400,000 bottles from their panzi贸, including their premium and limited edition wines.

The Geres, believing the human touch is crucial to their wine business, have begun offering evening meals this year to ensure visitor satisfaction.

鈥淚n recent years we see guests need a more complex [experience], wine, food, accommodation and other [activities],鈥 says Zsolt.

Vill谩ny 鈥 and its viniculture 鈥 has proved so popular with Magyar and foreigner alike that more than two dozen wine-accommodation operations, ranging from simple one-room jobs to high-end hotels, have opened since the turn of the millennium.

鈥淕uest nights have doubled in the last ten years,鈥 says Bogl谩rka Kov谩cs, who heads both the wine route association and a tourism development company from her nearby Sikl贸s office.

Zsolt Gere

Immense Impact

True, the 58,000 guest nights recorded in 2018 would scarcely be noticed in Budapest, but the impact on Vill谩ny, with its population of around 2,300, is immense.

In terms of services, at the forefront are establishments founded by two of Vill谩ny鈥檚 most renowned wine makers, the Crocus Hotel of Attila Gere (a family relation of Zsolt and Vikt贸ria) and J贸zsef Bock鈥檚 Hotel Ermitage.

Both boast spa treatments and four-star status, and with rooms that start from around HUF 20,000 rising to HUF 50,000 for deluxe apartments, both are large by Vill谩ny鈥檚 standards; Bock鈥檚 31 rooms and apartments can comfortably accommodate some 84 guests.

While such prices are good value in Budapest, they are a far cry from the more modest lodgings generally available in Vill谩ny, including the Di贸fa Panzi贸.

Yet, says G谩bor Sipos, head of marketing for Bock鈥檚 hotel and winery, there is a proven need 鈥渇or higher quality鈥: the Ermitage sells out every weekend.

And the provision of a conference center ensures steady demand from corporates, even in the winter.

Naturally, guests can enjoy wine tastings and cellar tours that include the spectacular underground rotunda chapel.

Bock鈥檚 business is similarly spectacular: his winery now produces one million bottles annually, and the Ermitage employs between 40 and 50 staff.

Magnificence

But does not the size and magnificence of such quarters lose out to the simple charm and humanity of small winery-panzi贸s?

Fearing precisely a loss of personal engagement, Zsolt and Vikt贸ria Gere shun further expansion of their family operation.

鈥淲e work very hard, and we have more things to do, but we don鈥檛 want to be so big we lose this relationship. It gives energy if you talk to people, and they say what you do is good, you鈥檙e on the right way,鈥 says Vikt贸ria.

Even in the relative opulence of the Ermitage, Sipos insists his boss has not lost the common touch.

鈥淭his week the family is on holiday, but normally J贸zsef Bock sits here and speaks with everybody. People like this,鈥 says Sipos. 鈥淲e have many guests who come ten times a year. They like the staff, because everyone knows the wines, they can all speak with them.鈥

Perhaps though, even Bock has reached his limits in tiny Vill谩ny?

Well, almost, it seems. Though he is currently building a new bottling facility, Bock has indeed declared a stop, says Sipos.

鈥淲e don鈥檛 want to get bigger. Every year he [Bock] says: I don鈥檛 want to build anything else,鈥 Sipos reports, before laughing: 鈥淏ut every year, every year we build something new!鈥

Tokaj Expands its Tourism Portfolio

On the second Sunday of every month, 30-40 artisans erect stalls and welcome guests in the grounds of the S谩rga Borh谩z, the classical restaurant adjacent to the Diszn贸k艖 Winery on the western edge of Tokaj, Hungary鈥檚 flagship wine region.

Some sell foodstuffs, such as honey, jams, cordials and cured meats, while others proffer carpets, jewelry and ceramics, all products of local kitchens and cottage industries. If there is not a wine stall available, it is only a short walk to the Diszn贸k艖 tasting room.

鈥淧eople come from Miskolc and Ny铆regyh谩za, even Slovakia and Poland,鈥 Katherine Chapman, a translator from nearby S谩rospatak who helped set up the market some seven years ago, told the BBJ.

The market is a community effort designed to broaden Tokaj as a tourist destination for wine and other local produce, while helping local businesses.

鈥淲ine tourism in Tokaj is certainly very important for the region. Joining the UNESCO World Heritage [list] was one important message back in 2002,鈥 says Samuel Tinon, a French winemaker who has worked in Tokaj for 25 years.

In that time, much effort has been put into expanding the tourist offering, both in terms of accommodation, wine programs and festivals, he says.

鈥淲ine tourism is a complex subject because it is at the junction of two professions, producing wines and producing services in very competitive markets,鈥 says Tinon. 鈥淏oth activities need long-term investment with up-to-date offerings in terms of the wine range, wine programs, accommodation standards and value.鈥

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