Teaching and Preaching Tradition and Innovation at Tokaj


Aerial panoramic view of vineyards of Tokaj wine region with town of Tokaj and River Tisza.

Photo by ZGPhotograph / Shutterstock.com

The historic, world-renowned Tokaj region is continuing to innovate to the extent that, more than “merely” a center of winemaking, it is also becoming a seat of learning.

Following the establishment last year of the Viticulture and Oenology course at the University of Tokaj, the Tokaj Wine Business Institute (TWBI) is to launch a one-year Wine Business Manager program in September, through the university and in cooperation with the School of Wine & Spirits Business at Burgundy School of Business (BSB) in Dijon, France. Successful completion of the English-language postgraduate program results in the award of a Wine Business Manager Diploma.

“Wine consumption worldwide has reached unprecedented levels, and the growth is far from over. At the same time, supply is outstripping demand, and in this competitive environment, solid professional skills are needed to achieve and maintain success,” said international wine academic Attila Fiáth, director of the Tokaj Wine Business Institute.

“Tokaj is tradition unto itself, so we combine this centuries-old authenticity with the fundamental knowledge of modern economics, including creative wine marketing, effective sales techniques, and digital solutions within this course at the TWBI,” he said.

This welcome initiative shows that the region is very much on the move, rather than resting on its laurels as once having been one of the world’s most famous wine regions. Fiáth, a professor at Budapest’s Corvinus University, brings plenty of business and wine experience to the program. It is also great to see Tokaj and Burgundy building vinous bridges.

“Burgundy and Tokaj, at first glance very different regions, actually have a lot in common: both world-famous regions are built on a synthesis of commitment to tradition and embracing modern wine trends,” said Steve Charters, Master of Wine and professor at the School of Wine & Spirits at BSB in Dijon.

“We believe we can contribute to improving the region’s competitiveness at TWBI with the same teaching approach that has worked in Dijon.”

Leaders and Pioneers

The course introduces students to current trends in enology and wine management while providing them with industry-specific business and economics skills that will enable them to become leaders and pioneers in the wine market at an international level, according to the program’s organizers.

“The Wine Business Manager program is mainly recommended for young winemakers who seek an economic education and for commercial professionals with limited wine business knowledge,” said Fiáth. He added that, due to the program’s uniqueness in Central Europe, students are also expected to come from neighboring countries.

One winery that already does the business and marketing side very well is Mad Wines. Having already dropped the accent from the “á” in Mád, the village where the winery is based, to emphasize the fun and wacky side of wine, it sells a snazzily designed bag-in-box Party Box and cool cans containing Mad bubbles (in three different styles and colors), which serve to take the stuffiness out of wine and no doubt appeal to new consumers.

Its Mad Limited Edition 2018 has a smart chip installed, which connects with one’s smartphone, giving all kinds of information about the wine itself. It also enables the consumer to provide feedback on the wine.

Furthermore, the information is localized according to where the wine is bought. For example, if the wine is purchased in Japan, all the information is given in Japanese, including recipes for dishes to go with it, prepared by Japanese chefs. The wine itself has a nice balance between fruit and oak, with a fresh, juicy palate, and costs HUF 3,750 from shop.mad-wine.com.

The Mad winery has also recently cooperated with 15th-generation Austrian winemaker Lenz Moser to release an exciting new wine – Ma’d Moser MM5 Tokaj Furmint Dry, which is debuting now from the 2021 vintage. The grapes were sourced from the vineyards of Mad Wine, located around the village of Mád, with 50,000 bottles, closed by a screw cap, made of the 2021.

Interest Rekindled

Moser was first taken to Tokaj at the age of 14 by his father. Seven years ago, in Austria, his interest in Tokaj was rekindled when he met wine communicator Rita Takaró, a Hungarian who lives in Austria and had previously lived and worked in Tokaj.

Last summer, Moser and Takaró went on a recce to Tokaj, and the pair teamed up with Károly Kovács, owner of Mad Wine, who brought his winemaker Gábor Urbán into the project. The quartet’s goal is “to bring an exciting new interpretation of dry Furmint from one of the world’s great – yet forgotten – wine regions to national and international markets.”

Moser explained that while everybody is talking about dry Furmint internationally, few have ever tasted it.

“I love dry Furmint because of its distinguishing characteristics: the high concentration of flavor and aromas; [it] is almost Riesling-esque, however completely different,” he said. He places the dry Furmint of the Tokaj region as in-between the Grüner Veltliner of his native Austria and German Riesling.

The wine has been given a 92/100 rating by James Suckling, the noted American wine critic, who commented on the “Extremely fresh nose of yellow apple, sliced pear and apple blossom. Ripe and generous, but also extremely refreshing, with focused juiciness that makes this modern dry Furmint very easy to enjoy. Long finish with serious power, lemon-zest freshness and a whiff of smoky minerality. Drink or hold.”

The alcohol is relatively high at 14%. “We would have liked it at 13.5%; however, in the end, we decided for the absolute quality and did not thin it down,” explained Moser. On tasting it, I found that the alcohol is really well integrated and didn’t burn whatsoever, with the wine soft and juicy with the residual sugar nicely balancing the acidity. It is available from madmoser.com.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of July 1, 2022.

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