Are you sure?

Women Winemakers a Force to be Reckoned With

The “Cherchez la femme, avagy Gyengébb? Nem” (“Look for the Women, are They Weaker? No”) tasting held at Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge and hosted by Borsmenta Magazin on International Women’s Day, March 8, showcased Hungary’s considerable female winemaking talent.

While Hungary may have performed very poorly in the updated 2017 version of the Gender Equality Index, with only Greece rated worse among EU member states, women winemakers are making some of the country’s finest wines. Also, albeit without number crunching and no suitable stats to hand, and with quite probably nothing concrete in existence anyway, my gut feeling is that women do appear to be fairly well represented in the Hungarian wine industry. 

The tasting was organized by Borsmenta Magazin’s Edit Szabó, who published the book “Gyengébb? Nem” last November featuring profiles of 26 women winemakers, all of whom were present at the tasting, along with a couple of others. 

While her charismatic husband Zoltán is the figurehead of Szekszárd’s Heimann family winery, it has actually been Ági Heimann who has been quietly making the excellent wines for years, although her son Zoltán junior is now also strongly involved in the winemaking. The Heimanns have been showing just how complex Kadarka and Kékfrankos can be from Szekszárd’s loess and red clay soil. Over in the Zala region, it was a question of what would happen to the Bussay family winery after the passing of winemaker László Bussay in 2014. His daughter, Dorottya, has done a very good job since taking over the keys of the winery.

Killer Rosé

Close to Budapest at Szigetcsép on Csepel island, Éva Gálné Dignisz of Gál Szőlőbirtok és Pincészet, who makes killer, award-winning rosé and solid, fruity whites, became the first woman to win the Hungarian Wine Academy’s Winemaker of the Year award back in 2013.

It’s not just at family wineries where women rule the winemaking roost. Beáta Böröczki (who also goes by the surname of Nyúlné Pühra) is the chief winemaker at the sizable, quasi cooperative Nyakas Pince in Tök, in the Etyek-Buda region, which is also close to the capital. Nyakas’ Sauvignon Blanc 2017, made in part from grapes coming from old vines, was vibrant and balanced between the aromatic nose and fruity palate. 2017 looks a stellar vintage in much of Hungary, although a very wet spell going into harvest did rain on the parade – quite literally – around Lake Balaton.

A large concentration of female winemakers is to be found in the Tokaj wine region. Stéphanie Berecz of Tokaj Kikelet may hail from the Loire in France, but she has lived and worked in Tokaj since the early 1990s and has shown that the Hárslevelű grape can make dry wine to rival, if not surpass, dry Furmint. Furthermore, she has done this from the supposedly inferior loess soil around the town of Tarcal, smashing the assumption that Tokaj’s best wines come only from the purely volcanic soils around the town of Mád.

One of the most appealing Furmints that I’ve tasted lately comes from Sanzon Tokaj and the capable hands of Erika Rácz. Sanzon Tokaj’s single vineyard Rány Furmint 2016 comes from a vineyard that is characterized by its firm acidity and this wine is no exception, although it is also really elegant with lots of soft fruitiness to take the edge off the acidic bite. It was made only in the tank, which helps seal in the considerable zesty freshness, but it doesn’t miss the body or texture that many believe can only come from vinifying in oak. 

Deft Exponent

Edit Bai is the chief winemaker at Tokaj’s second largest winery (Dereszla Pincészet), yet still manages to do her own thing, along with her brother István, at their family-owned Carpinus winery. Meanwhile, Judit Bodó of Bott Pince fame is a deft exponent in capturing the nuances of different vineyards via her adored Furmint grape. Márta Wille-Baumkauff (Tokaj Pendits) is a pioneer of biodynamic winemaking in Tokaj and Hungary and carried on admirably after the loss of her husband. The wines made by Fruzsina Osváth travel far and wide under the internationally renowned Royal Tokaji label. Anita Magyar is the “hostess with the mostess” (sorry to sound sexist, but the lunch is lovely) and some fine aszú at Hangavári Pincészet in Bodrogkisfalud. Dorottya Homoky (Homoky pincészet) and Kata Zsirai (Zsirai pincészet) are among the region’s promising young talents. 

While her father János makes the wines for Árvay Családi Pincészet, Angelika Árvay tirelessly sells them and served as the president of the Junibor association for seven years. Sarolta Bárdos makes some really distinctive wines in Bodrogkeresztúr, including a delicious Sárgamukotály from the 2017 vintage, which has a touch of sweetness with its residual sugar, but it is nicely cut through by acidity. It captures the grape’s fruity-floral character in a subtle rather than overpowering manner, but it is also ripe, round and substantial on the long palate. Dorottya Homoky (Homoky pincészet) and Kata Zsirai (Zsirai pincészet) are representative of Tokaj’s promising young female winemakers.

Vivienn Ujvári makes wine for the Barta Winery in Mád, but also has less than a hectare of her own wines in the Badacsony region. A wine made by her – Öreg Király Dűlő Furmint 0929 2017 – from rhyolite tuff, zeolite and red clay soil, seriously impressed at the press tasting for the upcoming sixth Great Tokaj Wine Auction. Young dry Furmints are often imbalanced and sharp and need to time to round out, but this one is already bang on the money.

The annual Tokaj auction will see a record number of lots (31 wines from 24 producers with an estimated value of HUF 70 million) of unique, one-off wines go under the hammer and will be held at the synagogue in the town of Tokaj on April 21 at 3:30 p.m. The wines can be tasted blind earlier on the same day. Dry lots are a Gönci barrel (136 liters), sweet wines are one or a half (68 liters) Gönci barrel and Eszencia are 10 liters, according to Laurent Comas, member of the Confrérie de Tokaj board. All lots will be bottled and labelled for the buyer.