06 December 2021 / Dóra Budavári
We visited the Homoky Winery in Tállya during the final days of the harvest to interview Dorka, the new generation of the family. The parents do most of the work at the Homokys, Dorka’s father, András, is the cellar master, while her mother Erzsébet takes care of the vines. The Homoky family has been engaged in viticulture and winemaking for generations, Dorka represents the 4th generation, although her road to winemaking has not been smooth. It didn’t occur to her until she was in her twenties that she would take over the estate one day; she was studying film philosophy at ELTE as wine was just creeping into her life. What followed was a lot of tasting, travelling, then returning to her roots, and later learning and experimenting. She made the first wine of her own in 2012. This year, her journey has reached a new milestone: with the help of an investor, Dorka has set up her own business and seems to be going from strength to strength. Now, let’s start from the beginning.
The Sas-alja vineyard near Tállya was one of Dorka’s first parcels of land.
So, you discovered that you had an investor in Levente Balogh sooner than the rest of us TV viewers and general public who saw this in late April on the show ‘Among the Sharks’. What has happened since then?
I was approached by The Sharks last year, during lockdown, and I was ready to take the plunge – I don’t regret it. My theme was natural wine, and my plan was to move away from the family business – I felt it was time but couldn’t have done it alone. I found a very good partner in Levente, and since then we have founded our joint company (Dorka received a 10-million-forint investment in exchange for a 25% share in the business), but the really big project is just coming.
Yes, I understand you are gradually moving towards increasing the volume and the concept of a new estate. What can you tell us about that now?
The first step after setting up the company is clearly to increase the volume of bottles, as there is demand from the market. Levente and I talk a lot, we plan, we work together seamlessly and get on well with each other. We are currently in the process of updating the design of the wines, which will soon be ready.
The bigger part is the second part of the deal: Levente wants a bigger estate in the wine region, which for me is a huge challenge and an exciting vision. We have started working on this together and have also bought two small plots. The plan is to build a completely new estate with its centre in Tállya. We are now putting the technology together, considering the options, we are at the beginning of the process. In the long run, this estate will incorporate the Dorka Homoky brand and take over part of the family land. It’s a five-to-six-year organic process, at the end of which my parents will hopefully be able relax more and retreat from the daily work. It’s time for that too. Of course, they will continue to make wine after this, but on a smaller scale, selling it at the cellar. The majority of the volume will be transferred to the new estate.
The 4th generation of the Homoky family now makes natural wines in the family cellar.
Tállya is where your heart is, where you are also planning your future from a wine-making perspective. Why is it so special?
Tállya is a very colourful place with small, interesting, exciting wineries. Many small family estates have been established in the last 10-15 years, a new generation of quality-minded winemakers has come onto the scene, and human-scale wineries are working here – we are not planning a huge winery. I am not the only one working with natural wines here, there are also professionals like Ferenc Szűcs, Péter Barta, László Zsadányi and László Alkonyi. It’s an exciting professional environment.
We tasted the 2013 Aszú while we were talking.
We’re tasting a 2013 Aszú, it’s in very good shape, and you’ve been talking about it with amazement. What is your relationship with traditional Tokaj wines? How much do you like Aszú, for example?
Aszú is our most important tradition in the Tokaj wine region, and it must be cherished. At the moment, I’m making it together with my mum and dad, learning the processes, watching, tasting, often deciding together when to bottle and when to take it out of the barrel. At this time of winter, we always have a bottle of Aszú open, it doesn’t run out quickly. Your body also craves it more at this time of year, as it is high in nutrients, is sweet and has many beneficial effects, antioxidants and general health benefits. I recently read an interesting article about this.
We collect the aszú berries from the bunches throughout the harvest, right from the beginning, they are put in crates at the cellar, and then, when all the harvest work is done and there is nothing left to do, we press them – after soaking, of course.
Selected aszú berries awaiting maceration and pressing.
Tokaji Aszú: Naturally sweet wine. The aszú berries – botrytised grapes, picked individually by hand over time – are added to the base wine during or after fermentation. Thus, the wine will ferment twice. Following the fermentation with the aszú berries, the Aszú wine is then aged in barrel. The typical size of a Tokaj barrel is 136 litres (gönci barrel). The number of puttonyos was the number of puttonyos of aszú soaked in a gönci barrel (according to today’s rules, it can be 5 or 6 puttonyos, but before 2013, there were also 3 and 4 puttonyos Aszú wines).
Tokaji Szamorodni: Botrytised and healthy grapes are harvested and processed together. “This year, we won’t have any Szamorodni because we were short of aszú berries; what we did have was picked out and will be included in the Aszú,” says Erzsébet.
Késői szüret/Late Harvest: This is harvested after full ripeness, at the end of the harvest period. “At this time, there are already a lot of grapes that have raisined, which gives the wines their special character,” says Dorka’s mother. “Late Harvest is a well-known category abroad, better known than Szamorodni, so it helps sales. It gives a fresher end result than Szamorodni, as it typically only has minimal aszú berries in it”, states Dorka.
Fordítás: After the infused aszú berries are first pressed out, they are often soaked again for a second pressing fermentation. The result is Fordítás, which Dorka says is a very exciting category.
Máslás: The lees of the Szamorodni or Aszú are reinfused in wine after fermentation and racking.
Eszencia: The aszú berries are stored in vats with a hole in the bottom until the end of the harvest. The very high sugar juice, the eszencia, is squeezed out of the berries by their increasing weight and can drip out through this.
How did your journey lead you to natural wines? What were the main stops on the way?
When I decided in 2012 that I wanted to be a winemaker “after all”, I asked my parents for some land. It wasn’t fashionable in Tállya at the time, but I knew from the start that I wanted to make single-vineyard wines. So, I started with the Hetény, Görbe, Bártfai and Sas-alja vineyards. From the first year one, I used spontaneous fermentation and never used yeast or enzymes. Year after year, I studied and experimented, I read a lot and tasted a lot. In 2011, I started studying viticulture and winemaking in France. Everything in the cellar gradually evolved, I decreased the amount of sulphur dioxide and had new ideas: what if I fermented on the skins, what if I didn’t filter and how about making pét-nat? Of course, I was inspired by reading and tasting natural wines abroad – the first time I tasted such a wine in France, I thought, “WOW, what is this? I want to make this!” I started digging into the subject, not using any chemicals in the vineyard, minimal or no intervention in the winemaking process and minimising sulphur dioxide use. By 2019, the vineyards had been converted to organic, I abandoned filtration and fining and used zero or minimal sulphur dioxide – my first natural vintage.
I have now acquired more land and we have also made some purchases. I am making sparkling wine, estate wine and pét-nat, I also have an orange wine fermented on skins – the range is becoming clear. This year’s vintage will be around 6,000 bottles.
Gönci barrels in the family cellar
How involved were your parents in your experimentation?
Fortunately, they have always been very open, and our winemaking is a team effort. It may have been strange for my father at first when he opened the wine and it was cloudy, but he found that he liked this direction too. We have always been able to work together and count on each other.
How do you see your life in five years?
I think the new estate will release its first wine in three years, preceded of course by a team building, learning and training process. I think that the Budapest-Tállya dual life and commuting will remain – I can stand the pace and like it too. I certainly plan to gain more experience abroad, and I will also travel a lot to build and nurture commercial relationships. I find that this is something that shouldn’t be taken out of my hands, especially with natural wines. The genre requires personal contact.