07 March 2024 / Edit Szabó / Photos by Nándor Lang Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

I would like to have better wine, not more wine - In conversation with Csaba Török

In 2023, the Circle of Hungarian Wine Writers awarded the Hungarian Wine Grand Prix to the 2HA Winery’s 2019 Shiraz. Edit Szabó talked to the winery’s founder, Csaba Török…

The Circle of Hungarian Wine Writers recently awarded the Hungarian Wine Grand Prix to your 2019 Shiraz. Do these awards matter?

Fortunately, I have received several such awards and recognitions, but I don’t talk about them because I can never judge whether our consumers even know where to place them and whether they can appreciate the weight and significance of the awards. However, it is clear that the Circle of Hungarian Wine Writers is a serious society, its members are involved in the Hungarian wine scene, they taste a lot, and they also try to give the award real status.

 

This year, two wines from the Balaton received the highest recognition from them, as Mihály Figula’s 2022 Sóskút Olaszrizling was the white Hungarian Wine Grand Prix winner. Can any conclusions be drawn from this?

We have long said that wine tastes are changing, and these two awards seem to confirm this trend. Hungarian tasters and wine judges used to be particularly fond of ‘heavily oaked’ wines, so a red from the Balaton rarely won much acclaim. There were also ‘classic’ red wines in the field, following the older style, but mine got the highest score in the blind tasting, which is very important feedback for me. The reason I don’t make heavily oaked wines is not because I can’t, but because I don’t like them, and others seem to agree with me.

 

The name of your winery gained recognition with all Hungarian wine lovers when it became known that an excellent Sangiovese was being produced on an estate at the Balaton with a mere two hectares. How big is the estate now and which grape varieties do you work with?

The estate is now 4.5 hectares, although we haven’t bought any land for over ten years. I work with eleven grape varieties, three of which I’m only experimenting with and making very small quantities of wine. For white wines, we make commercial volumes from the two classic varieties, Olaszrizling and Pinot Gris, and in terms of black grapes, I make single varietal wines from Shiraz, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese. The latter is called Tabunello. In addition, I make a cuvée called Courage, which is basically a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with small amounts of other grape varieties.

 

And you make a traditional method sparkling wine, don’t you?

Yes, but few people know that as we always run out at the cellar door. The unusual thing is that we age the base wine in oak for at least six months. It’s obviously a lot more hassle, but it’s worth it, and the biggest names in Champagne also use this method. I used to make it from Riesling, but now I’ve also added Sangiovese, which is now dominant. It’s produced as a rosé sparkling wine, and everyone who has been lucky enough to taste it has loved it. I usually make 2,000 bottles of it, but the quantity varies.

 

Do you have any more secret treasures like this?

Of course. I have an old Badacsony red, I don’t know what variety it is, and I have Csóka too. I have just made a Sangiovese pét-nat, which was very exciting, and I made a small amount of rosé Shiraz on request, but these are produced in really minimal quantities, the public never even sees them as they run out at the cellar door.

 

You said you hadn’t bought any land in ten years. Don’t you want to grow?

No. My cellar is small, we barely fit in it. I don’t want to make more wine, I want to make better wine. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.

 

You set the bar high with Tabunello...

With so many volcanic hills and our soil, we have everything we need to produce interesting wines. It would be great if we had a strong autochthonous variety, but the one I’m experimenting with now will not be the breakthrough. I’m glad that Áron Pap has planted Laska next door, and Robi Gilvesy has planted Kadarka. I’m very curious about it, but I don’t feel that I should experiment with more varieties, but rather learn some lessons. Grubbing up the poor performers, planting the good ones, organically rotating the grape selection, it’s a nice idea, but this pure theory is very often interfered with by reality. Because in the end, it is always a question of whether you can sell it. I know which of my wines perform better than others, and I can tell you what I would do if we lived in an ideal world. Except we don’t live in an ideal world. Having said that, I would love to have an old Hungarian variety on my estate that performs well, but I don’t want anything else. Others are already working with Sagrantino, Nebbiolo and Georgian varieties, I don’t plan any such innovations.

 

What makes a wine good?

Elegance and complexity are the primary objectives. And if this is the case, the wine can be simple or fuller bodied, it doesn’t matter, because both can be elegant and complex. A wine is made to be drunk, not just to be put up on the shelf. Once you have drunk it and enjoyed it, you can then talk about whether it is better than others and if so, why.

 

What’s life like on Szent György Hill?

Good. Only a few of us live here, but we get together several times a week. We think it is very important to talk. We don’t always agree, but that’s okay, but we have a strong bond, a strong solidarity. We have organised some very successful events together in recent years and we are very optimistic.

 

The hill seems to be very much alive…

The whole Balaton Highlands has come alive, almost exploding recently. There are many new wineries, we have bakeries and cheesemakers, breakfast places have opened, all offering quality products. The quality of life on the hill is now enviable. Of course, not everything is open in winter, but even so, local hospitality is still viable.

 

Is there anywhere in the world you would like to compare the area around Szent György Hill to?

I think that the Balaton Highlands has its own identity. You could say it’s like Tuscany or Provence, but it’s not. The volcanic buttes around us give the landscape a strange undulation that I have never seen anywhere else. I have an Italian friend who has been considering moving here for a long time. And do you know where from? Tuscany. Because he thinks it’s so beautiful here. Well, it is really beautiful.

 

How much time do you spend here?

I now live here. I lived in Budapest for a long time and ran the winery from there, but the financial crisis of 2008 had a long-term impact. My old job was slowly disappearing, and I decided to make this winery my main job, which requires an intensive presence.

You have the estate, you don’t want to grow, you have the variety trials you are interested in. What else would you like to do at the winery?

It’s very simple: I would like the market to be more predictable and I’d like to work with stable sales partners. I don’t want to change the style of the wines, we work organically, we use spontaneous fermentation and only use oak barrels. We have never filtered either the reds or the whites. Now I’m starting to play around a little with amphorae, but it’s not a quest, just out of curiosity, really just playing. If it’s no good, I’ll plant some geraniums in that amphora instead. It will look good in the garden.

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