Hungarian Wine Makers Strive to Mature the Tourism Market

Drinks

On its webpage, the Villány-Siklósi 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’s 8 a.m. and breakfast time at the Gere Tamás & Zsolt Diófa Panzió in Villány, the focal point of Hungary’s most southerly wine region.

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

“This group has been coming every year for five, six years,” Viktoria tells the Budapest Business Journal.

Zsolt, her brother and the family winemaker, adds: “They sit and talk with my father in the evenings. They buy wine from us and bring beer from Germany. It’s all very friendly.”

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 panzió, 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.

“In recent years we see guests need a more complex [experience], wine, food, accommodation and other [activities],” says Zsolt.

Villány – and its viniculture – 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.

“Guest nights have doubled in the last ten years,” says Boglárka Kovács, who heads both the wine route association and a tourism development company from her nearby Siklós office.

Zsolt Gere

Immense Impact

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

In terms of services, at the forefront are establishments founded by two of Villány’s most renowned wine makers, the Crocus Hotel of Attila Gere (a family relation of Zsolt and Viktória) and József Bock’s 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 Villány’s standards; Bock’s 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 Villány, including the Diófa Panzió.

Yet, says Gábor Sipos, head of marketing for Bock’s hotel and winery, there is a proven need “for higher quality”: 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’s 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-panziós?

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

“We work very hard, and we have more things to do, but we don’t 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’re on the right way,” says Viktória.

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

“This week the family is on holiday, but normally József Bock sits here and speaks with everybody. People like this,” says Sipos. “We have many guests who come ten times a year. They like the staff, because everyone knows the wines, they can all speak with them.”

Perhaps though, even Bock has reached his limits in tiny Villány?

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

“We don’t want to get bigger. Every year he [Bock] says: I don’t want to build anything else,” Sipos reports, before laughing: “But every year, every year we build something new!”

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 Sárga Borház, the classical restaurant adjacent to the Disznókő Winery on the western edge of Tokaj, Hungary’s 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 Disznókő tasting room.

“People come from Miskolc and Nyíregyháza, even Slovakia and Poland,” Katherine Chapman, a translator from nearby Sárospatak 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.

“Wine tourism in Tokaj is certainly very important for the region. Joining the UNESCO World Heritage [list] was one important message back in 2002,” 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.

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

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