05 January 2022 / Dóra Budavári Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

I look for Somló in every wine – Éva Cartwright

We are sitting almost at the top of Somló Hill, in the Somló Wine Shop, the fire is crackling, our host Éva Cartwright is pouring Juhfark into our glasses, and everything feels just right. “I’ve only really arrived in Somló now,” says Éva, who was born in the area and always knew she would return here.

As a logistics professional, Éva lived the real high life, for a while in London, then in Budapest, but over time, she commuted more and more to her beloved Somló Hill, to which she had always gravitated. Somló is her centre, its wines her eternal pinnacle, while Éva is the centre of Somló, its landlady, its omniscient. She knows everyone here, the winemakers gather at her place to taste, and the Somló Wine Shop has become an important community space for the hill over the years. At this time of year, in winter, you can count the number of people eking out a subsistence living on the south side of the hill on one hand, but there are probably barely twenty people on the whole of Somló during these evening hours in December. The hill is bustling in summer, with more and more people coming here on holiday, opening hotels, coming with their families and children, and Somló is not an easy place. But Éva will tell us about that in a moment.

 

Éva Cartwright, owner of the Somló Wine Shop

 

 

How are you doing at the moment?

 

Getting through my first real year on Somló is the result of a long process. I’ve now quit my job and finally my flat in Budapest, and I live here all the time, I’m my own boss. COVID has led to an inner journey for many people, a reflection on what is important and what is not. I am lucky to have experienced all this here. Even though I’ve lived abroad and travelled the world, somehow it was always clear that I felt at home here.

 

Somló has retained its authentic vineyard character to this day, and our road takes you to the top of the hill, past neat basalt terraces

 

 

I wasn’t any happier then, it was just different: then it was about building a career, now it’s about enjoying the endless peace and quiet that surrounds me. True, I still have to learn to do the latter. For thirty years, I was used to juggling six balls at the same time, now I only have three. Sometimes I ask myself what I should do today, and the answer is nothing. It can be scary sometimes, but all you have to do is sit out on the terrace with a glass of wine and watch the world go by.

 

The terrace of the Somló Wine Shop is a frequent meeting place for everyone in the wine region

 

 

Still, you have plenty of projects to keep you busy...

 

Yes, the wine shop where we are sitting is now open by appointment – COVID was the last nail in the coffin of the sustainability of such a seasonal, one-employee mini-shop. I live 15 minutes from here, so if someone calls me, I can be here quickly, but you can also book an appointment in advance. I have at least 150 regulars, who often come to taste, buy or bring a group. I also have a guesthouse above the wine shop, and groups regularly come and stay here. If they want, I can cook something in the wood-burning oven and hold wine tastings. And it’s a big advantage that it’s close to the NATO base in Pápa, where many foreign soldiers are stationed with their families and looking for foreign language activities – they often bring relatives here for tastings or just to shop. I also operate a webshop, which is now going very well. I ship to most countries in Europe. It’s mainly Hungarian wines, but I also import exciting wines from elsewhere. Logistics has remained part of my life. I handle exports for several wineries, most recently, for example, I collected wines from six Hungarian wineries and shipped them together to the Czech Republic on one pallet. And we’re planning the 2022 GoVolvanic (European Volcanic Wine Summit) gathering on 21 May.

 

The land where the house now stands was bought by Éva and her family in 2008

 

 

If you had a timeline that ended now, what would be the most important milestones in your life?

 

My family on both my mother’s and my father’s sides are from Pápateszér, a village in the Bakony valley, 80 kilometres from here. We moved here because of my forester father’s job – my father’s first employer was Endre Tornai, the founder of the Tornai Winery. Then came my big city years, but I always longed to come back. We bought this plot where we are now in 2008, and the wine shop opened in 2012. I was already involved in the wine trade, even during my years abroad. I moved home from the UK in 2017, and I’ve now reached the point where I don’t have to go down off the hill for weeks if I don’t need to, and I don’t even want to. This inner peace is just beginning to arrive. I used to need to feel the asphalt under my feet sometimes, while now I just want the basalt gravel. We often talk with the winemakers when we get together here, so we feel on top of the world.

 

The history of the varieties on Somló is documented from the 1700s. We know that they did not pick the varieties separately in the beginning, but just made one wine, called “Somlai”. It was always a white wine, which also included black varieties. Éva tells us it’s a misconception that Juhfark is the “wedding night wine”, and that in Habsburg times, it was probably the white Somlai blend that was used for this, which later became synonymous with the name Juhfark, as it is something unique to the wine region. Éva tells us that four out of five visitors seek out and buy this wine, which is indeed most typical of Somló, although it only accounts for about a sixth of the wine region.

 

The wine shop is much more than a shop, it is a community space, just like Somló is a community space for those who have lived here.

 

The initial hard core consists of local winemakers Bálint Barcza, Peti Tóth, Zoli Balogh, Tomi Kis... A diverse group of people come to the shop, and although we have an inner circle, we are not closed, new people are always joining us, for example, in the last few years, Imre Halász, Árpi Tomcsányi and family and Dr László Szalay, mayor of Dunaharaszti – his family was originally from Somlóvásárhely, and he has now also bought a house on the hill. The good thing about the community here is that we are always there for each other, we help each other, but we also understand when the other person wants to be alone. There have been winters where we only heated one house, and all slept there together as there were not so many of us. It is typical of the community that on hot summer days, the winemakers sometimes spray together at night, doing someone’s vines one night and someone else’s the next, because it is easier to work together. The last few years has brought the age of children, so now our communal events are buzzing with kids. I love knowing them from birth and watching them grow up.

 

Rocks and wines on the shelves – a selection of volcanic wines at Éva’s

 

 

What’s Somló like now? How is it being built and developed?

 

There are the fewest people on the hill in winter, while there can be up to a hundred of us in summer. The kind of holiday home ownership that was common in the 1960s is now coming back, with many people renovating the buildings and making them more comfortable. As the hill belongs to four municipalities, this also means different regulations, but besides renovations, there are also new houses being built. The fact that there is no sewerage and no running water here makes everything difficult, and newcomers often give up. It would probably not attract the same people if it were easier.

 

When I called to ask to talk to you, you insisted that we should discuss what kind of expectations tourists should have when visiting Somló. What did you mean?

 

If you come to Somló and you want to do more than just visit the hill, you need to do some planning: many wineries are happy to welcome you, but they are not open all the time, just like I’m not. There is not much accommodation, and the station is a long way away; however, the nature is beautiful, there are many lovely houses and chapels as well as the castle, making it worth climbing the hill, and not just for the view. We and Gábor Nagy, who takes a lot of photos of the hill and its winemakers, as well as being responsible for the wine region’s marketing, are planning a Somló guide with all the most important information. We have already realised that there are at least 80 Somló players who would each deserve a page! Everybody is developing and there are more and more guesthouses. Among the smaller winemakers, Peti Tóth and family also welcome guests, Bálint Barcza and family have built a wine terrace, and you can usually visit Tomi Kis, the Szalai’s cellar and the Clements winery. Apart from the Hegykapu restaurant, the Kreinbacher Estate, the Tornai Winery and Csordás have permanent opening hours, with Tornai operating a restaurant at the weekend. The Spiegelberg Wine Cellar also has a terrace, the Bazalt Wine Terrace has opened under the castle to the north and the Inhauser Winery, Karcsi Kolonics and the Varsádi family offer food and accommodation. Basically, I recommend that everyone makes sure to book in advance!

 

The St Ilona Chapel and cellar buildings below

 

 

What kind of wines do you work with and are interested in?

 

I’m definitely interested in volcanic wines, but I have very low subjective standards: I am interested in any winemaker that makes and bottles Somló wines. I also research expensive, quality volcanic wines from both Hungary and abroad, and sometimes I will make an exception for a non-volcanic wine, which will find its way into my selection, such as a Tuscan Sangiovese from my favourite town, Volterra.

I have never studied wine formally, and never will, but I do taste a lot. I always look for Somló in volcanic wines. When I was asked recently how I could describe this, I said: hell and brimstone, that’s what you have to look for. Flint, salinity, fieriness – notes that you wouldn’t think of in food yet are exciting in wine. I relate everything to Somló, it’s my benchmark, and it’s a great discovery when it’s reflected in an Azorean wine. It’s not by chance that the rocks from volcanic regions are displayed on the shelves here in the shop. When I see a producer putting rocks on their shelves, I know immediately that I’m in the right place, because they care about their soil composition. I think it’s amazing that a plant can express the environment in which it grows. I think Somló can do this extremely well, it’s in everything: in the water, in the flavour of peaches and strawberries... and of course in the wine.

 

 

 

Somló wine tasting - a short flight as recommended by Éva:

 

- Olaszrizling - Péter Tóth, Kőfejtő Pince

- Juhfark – Somlói Apátsági Pince, single vineyard from Tamás Kis – Somlói Vándor Pince

- Hárslevelű – Kolonics Pincészet, Fekete Pince

- Furmint - Somlói Apátsági Pince, Barnabás Pince

- Tramini – Barcza Pince (orange wine)

- As well as wines from Tornai Pincészet, which are also available in larger supermarkets.

 

 

All you have to do now is plan your next wine tour to the Nagy-Somló wine district with the help of our recommendations!

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