29 April 2022 / Dóra Budavári Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

Spring in the Balaton Highlands – Photo report

A sluggish, slightly overcast day greets us as we drive through the Kál Basin. On the terrace of the Pálffy Winery in Köveskál, a tabby is getting to know a wine glass, and the conversation is accompanied by plenty of homemade, farmhouse snacks. Gyúla Szabó is working in his cellar, we drop in on Tamás Istvándi in Szentbékálla and end the day at the stone sea. Heading along the winding roads between the volcanic hills, we can see that the countryside is turning green, and spring is clearly on its way. We’re in the Balaton Highlands, so join us for a photo report.


The eighth generation of the family is currently working at the Pálffy Winery in Köveskál, everyone has their job in the vineyard or in the cellar. “As far back as we can go, there have been vines in the family, everyone here was (also) engaged in viticulture in the past. The name Pálffy in Köveskál can be traced back to 1780, there are three families with this surname in the village today”, says the younger Gyula Pálffy. His father Gyula Pálffy and his wife both come from the local area. His father is in charge of plant protection and is the managing director of the winery, while his mother is in charge of the winery’s hospitality. Gyula is mainly responsible for the cellar, while his brother has recently gone his own way and is currently running the PANK project specialising in pét-nats. His wines are in demand abroad as well as in Hungarian natural wine bars.


Approaching from Tapolca, you will find the charming Pálffy Winery as you enter Köveskál. It boasts a large garden, where from spring, you can taste and relax in comfort as well as easily reach it by bike. The interior is also impressive and has been recently renovated, so can now accommodate large groups. A modern breakfast room has been established, where for the time being, as well as tastings, they prepare breakfast platters for those staying at the new guest house across the road. The guest house can accommodate up to 12 people. “We do a lot of things ourselves, working things out within the family. Many people say they’d like to work here, but unfortunately, we can’t provide accommodation, so it’s difficult to expand the team,” says Gyula.


The vineyards have been farmed organically since 2015, but since 2007, they have not used any absorbents, only copper, sulphur and extracts (e.g. orange oil). Their wines are officially classified as organic. At the bottom of their product pyramid are their light, entry-level wines (Olaszrizling, Tramini, rosé and Sauvignon Blanc), followed by the red and white estate wines (blends of smaller batches), then the vineyard wines, such as Fekete-hegy, Mál or Olivin. “Olivine is a green crystal found in volcanic soil, we found it on Fekete-hegy when we cleared a forest area for planting. We planted Furmint here in 2006; our wine under this name is 100% Furmint, and our customers love it,” he says. Their main varieties are Olaszrizling, Riesling and Furmint, they also produce rosé, and their 2018 rosé is currently on sale. They farm 18 hectares and produce 50,000 bottles a year.

The Kál origin protection designates three categories, regulating, among other things, the areas, the method of cultivation and winemaking, and the ageing period. At the bottom of the pyramid is Káli wine, on top of this is Káli Royal and then the Káli Royal Főbor category, the latter being a sweet wine – Pálffy Winery also makes this. “I think there are definitely a lot of small errors in the product specification, so it will be worth revising it to make it easier to implement,” says Bea.


Gyula Szabó, the driving force behind the Káli Kövek Winery, is a father of six, so it is no wonder that he does not always hold the tastings, although he does try to be present in person at the estate’s headquarters as often as possible during the week. “This spring and summer, we will continue the music programmes, but Köveskál is one of the quieter villages, and we don’t want to compete with the music venues in the area. We prefer jazz, which is what we are into. Last year, we started with a food truck, the ‘Pesti Disznó’, and this year, this will be replaced by the Kőleves team, initially only at weekends, but also during the week in summer. There are a lot of restaurants nearby, but we also need a place where you can just drop in, with needing to book. More and more people are coming by bike or e-bike and are drinking and getting hungry. In the summer, we also offer a midday brunch, we see there is a great demand for this,” says Gyula.


“For us, the last two years have not been bad business-wise, with both local and online sales soaring. We’re now transitioning to organic farming and getting certified is part of our five-year plan. We farm three hectares of our own land, buy grapes from ten hectares and make 60,000 bottles a year,” he lists the numbers. You won’t find just the usual 750 ml bottles at Gyula’s, as the red and white blend, Kavics, which comes in 1.5-litre bottles is also a popular item, and he also makes small bottles of frizzante (375 ml), which is in great demand. “There will also be a new addition this year in the single-vineyard category, a Hárslevelű, Juhfark and Furmint blend from the Somló area. It will be called Kalamona, inspired by the folk tale of the wind-bound Kalamona, and will have a three-headed dragon on the label to refer to the three grape varieties. This will be our first colourful, really fabulous label,” he says.


Tamás Istvándi (Istvándy Jenő Winery) started his career as a winemaker at the Badacsony Winery, working with the same equipment as his father. There have always been vineyards in the family, and the house in Szentbékálla was built in 1825 by six of Tamás’s ancestors. Today, the family winemaking takes place in the courtyard of his house, on a small scale, with great care. 25-30,000 bottles are produced from five hectares, with most of the work being done by Tamás and his wife, who also do contract bottling. Tamás is the only master in the cellar. “It’s very different when you just give an order to when you work in the cellar yourself. When you’re sitting there with nothing to do, you have time to think. You get a lot of useful ideas when you’re playing about with the wine,” he says.


The tasting room is full of wonderful paintings, but they are not open all the time. Tamás says that for three years, they have always started the spring with the idea of opening this year, but in the end, they never do. However, they did organise a concert in the courtyard last year, which was a great success.

The winery’s range is very deliberately structured; Parfym is a restrainedly aromatic light blend that is all about the vintage, while its counterpart, Kála, is a blend aged for longer which reflects the region. The Chico Olaszrizling tries to showcase the character of the variety, while its counterpart, Volcano, is more about the winery’s style. Moreover, they also produce the Farkastető and Káli Olaszrizling selections. They have made two wines so far together with Gergő Istvándy from the Istvándy Winery in Badacsony, under the name “We come from the same roots”. Many people confuse them; they are related, but Tamás now spells his surname with an “i” at the end.

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