26 February 2024 / Edit Szabó / Photos by Nándor Lang / Translated by Sue Tolson DipWSET Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

Olaszrizling can do it all! - In conversation with Mihály Figula

He has been Wine Producer of the Year and the Winemakers’ Winemaker of the Year, his wines have won awards at numerous national and international competitions, and the Hungarian Circle of Wine Writers has given one of his Olaszrizlings the Hungarian Wine Grand Prix for the best white wine. Edit Szabó interviewed Mihály Figula…

The Hungarian Circle of Wine Writers chose the Figula Winery’s 2022 Sóskút Olaszrizling as the best white wine of 2023. What does it mean for a winemaker to have their wine awarded the Hungarian Wine Grand Prix?

We are very happy, especially as we have sworn an oath to Olaszrizling, and thanks to this award, not only this specific wine will receive more attention, but also the variety.


Why do you think the variety is so important?

Because Olaszrizling has it all, that’s the beauty of it. It can range from a light, fruity wine, even one for a wine spritzer, to a serious full-bodied, dense white wine, and even beyond, as it botrytises well given the right environment and can thus make an excellent sweet wine – although that’s not our aim. This extremely broad spectrum is an incredible advantage, but it’s not everything. It is important to say that our experience has shown that Olaszrizling adapts well to changing climatic conditions, a quality that will be very important in the future.



You’ve said many times that for you, the most important thing is to reflect the character of the terroir in the wine. How does Olaszrizling do this?

We have thought like this from the very beginning and our whole concept is based on this. To put it simply, we can say that three types of Olaszrizling are born in our cellar. We don’t have a Balaton wine, our estate wine is made from grapes from several vineyards, and in addition to that, we have single vineyard and single parcel wines, where the variety is almost overshadowed by the characteristics of the terroir. These wines do not have the direct aromas typical of other grape varieties, only the natural character of the wine is revealed, which can be beautifully interwoven with the terroir.


What are the places that best show the character of the terroir?

According to family legend, the Balatonszőlős area is clearly made for Olaszrizling. Up to seven or eight Olaszrizling with different characters can be made here, since the soil differs not only from vineyard to vineyard, but also from parcel to parcel. We are incredibly lucky to be able to work here!



Do you have a favourite Olaszrizling?

It depends on the time of year or the time of day, whether I’m reading Márai or Hamvas, whether I’ve had an easy day or a difficult one, and so on. But the great thing about Olaszrizling is that it offers an alternative for every mood: summer, winter, light, heavy, simple, complex and, as I said, it can be sweet, but that doesn’t really interest me. You can drink the light, easy-drinking version from morning till night in summer, while the parcel selection version requires an occasion and food. We have believed from the very beginning that this variety can do it all, which is why some of our Olaszrizlings have become sought-after reference wines abroad. Moreover, the economics of the variety should not be overlooked either. Olaszrizling can support the grower even in the most difficult vintage, as it is capable of producing fruit that can be used for at least one light, easy-drinking, clean, enjoyable Balaton wine.


There has been a lot of talk recently about the dramatic reduction in wine consumption. Do you think the trend can be reversed and, if so, how?

This is a well-known problem, and it is not just a Hungarian phenomenon. In my opinion, this fact also raises generational issues, and our most important task now is to find the right marketing tools to get our message across to the young adults of today. In their eyes, wine is “my grandfather’s story” because we are trying to attract their attention in a fusty, old-fashioned way. I don’t know the means, but we always like to say that wine is 100% grape juice, with a character that varies from region to region. There is no other drink in the world that is more natural and exciting. The basic message is timeless, but if we don’t find a way to get it across, we could lose an entire generation of wine drinkers, which in the long run could lead to very serious problems.



What was it like when you were a young adult?

What I remember is that we were fascinated by Olaszrizling from the very first moment, listening to older people, my grandmother for example, and trying to figure out how to dig more deeply. Today, however, the situation is totally different. My mother is now reading Krisztián Steigervald’s book ‘The Battle of the Generations’ and she sometimes quotes it to us. It’s like she’s talking about my own son. Fülöp is from Generation Z, so I have direct experience of the current situation. It’s not easy to make anything attractive to them. They turn to the internet to get answers to all their questions and get them immediately, so they think they know everything. Obviously, that’s the way things are in the world today, not to mention the fact that they are fast, and we are slow. We shouldn’t speak to them in a pedantic and patronising way, as that will distance them even more. Kids today don’t take their cues from family, so it’s not enough for you to set a good example because they won’t follow you. If we translate all this into the language of wine, we can see that classic wine tastings are not going to work, because they don’t have the radar for it, they don’t understand, they are not going to sit there for three hours over one wine. We shouldn’t bore them, as they are whirling much faster than us, and they won’t go into depths over a glass of wine on command. But of course, there is a time for everything, you just have to wait and see. So, I have no idea what the solution is, but we need to work this out quickly, because the statistics are worrying.



Who do you consider a role model among the older generation of winemakers, whose words do you always pay attention to?

For me, István Szepsy and Imre Györgykovács are two of the most important figures in the Hungarian wine industry. Their dedication is exemplary. Imre lives nearby, so I often meet him and talk to him. His opinion means a lot to me, because everything he says is based on decades of experience. It is worth listening to what he has to say.


And if a young person just starting out in their career came to you for advice, what would you tell them?

While I am all for tradition, my advice to anyone starting out is to be modern and innovative. Try to find the right voice for young consumers because they all speak the same language. It would be good if we could have a team of highly professional young specialists, because we could ask them questions. There is new blood in the world of the arts, they are coming up with new ideas in music and the visual arts, and we, however, are stuck in a rut, whereas we really need momentum.



Could it be that young people today don’t see any prospects in this career?

I would not dare to say this unequivocally, because it would mean that they see no perspective in rural life either and that takes us much further. I think the problem is rather that winemaking is a niche industry and needs round-the-clock attention, and today’s young people want to remain flexible. They live their lives on a project level, working a little on one side of the world, and then at the other end, with nothing tying them to one place, their workplace is where their laptop is. But if you plant two hectares of vines, this situation changes immediately. We welcome young people with open arms and are constantly interviewing them. We like to have new colleagues and we sincerely hope that we can win some of them over to the cause of Hungarian wine.


You told me that you and your mother always taste together because she is very talented at it, and you give her your opinion. Is that still the case?

Yes, and I’m very happy about that. As a classic family business, everyone does their share of the work. If the mountains of paper and new legislation are annoying us, we go out to the vineyard or down to the cellar and relax, because it is much easier to find common ground with wine and vines. The wines are really good, and that’s what’s truly important. 2023 was a good vintage, we are spoilt, we’re working and we’re confident. Then we’ll see what the future brings.



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