08 February 2024 / Ádám Geri / Photos: Nándor Lang Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

What happens at the Pécs Research Institute of Viticulture and Oenology

Why are the Pécs research institute and the Szentmiklós Hill site a national treasure? What is a grape variety gene bank? Where can wine lovers drink the “results of” the research in Pécs? Dr Péter Teszlák, research director of the research institute and winner of the 2023 Agricultural Innovator of the Year Award replies.

How would you introduce the University of Pécs Research Institute of Viticulture and Oenology (PTE-SZBKI) to our readers? What kind of work is done there?

With more than 1,500 items – species, varieties, clones – our grape variety collection is the second largest grapevine gene bank in Europe and the sixth largest in the world. It’s a real treasure, which is recognised throughout Europe and the world. It is a resource that nourishes the entire domestic viticulture and winemaking sector. For example, if you want to plant an old Carpathian Basin variety in any of the 22 Hungarian wine regions, you will turn to us. We are the only authentic source. This is thanks to the founder of the research institute, Dr Márton Németh, who created the collection of nearly a hundred ancient varieties from the former Greater Hungary area here. Besides our gene bank, another very important task is the operation and continuation of the breeding programme begun in the 2000s by Dr Kozma Pál when he retired. Within its framework of clonal selection and crossbreeding, the Institute can create new grape varieties. It is Hungary’s most prominent breeding centre and boasts a strong international track record.

 

In the case of grapevines, what exactly is the gene bank that you are head of at PTE-SZBKI?

In many people’s minds, the term ‘gene bank’ may conjure up images of frozen and thawed samples from the movies. The vine gene bank, on the other hand, can be mainly maintained in the open-air. So, you have to imagine classic vineyard layouts with 5-10 vines from each of the 1,500 items mentioned. Maintenance and conservation are a constant task, as it is worth renewing the vines every 30-35 years. There are thirty grape varieties that can only be found in the world in our gene bank alone. 

And this is extremely important: from the point of view of fire and disaster prevention, we are one of Hungary’s priority sites.

And of course, our work is not only about conservation, but also about continuous experimentation and research. Every year, we make micro-vinification wines from 5-10 vines of the previously mentioned 100 Carpathian Basin varieties as well as from new breedings and clone selections. We keep the profession informed about our work and results. We publish our studies and organise thematic tastings.

 

When and how does your work become tangible for the end user, the wine consumer?

Many of our new, innovative varieties have already been incorporated into the ranges of wineries, and they are making wine from them. Pinot Regina, our so-called resistant variety that boasts Pinot Noir character but is highly resistant to fungal diseases, is also widely planted in Italy. I could also mention our alternative to Irsai Olivér, also resistant, our Jázmin, or our Merlin, which has the characteristics of Merlot. We are already conducting large-scale experiments with one of Hungary’s largest wineries, the Varga Winery. However, the Mészáros Winery in Szekszárd, the Koch Winery in Hajós-Baja and the Törley Sparkling Wine Cellar are also interested in new varieties from the research institute.

 

Who can visit the site on Szentmiklós Hill? Do you have events for the general public too?

Anyone can visit the site by prior arrangement by email or telephone. Many people take advantage of this too, and in 2023 we had over 80 events. We organise wine tastings, themed tastings and guided tours of the institute on request. In the summer, we have a large marquee in front of the building for weddings and corporate events. 

 

In 2023, you were awarded the title of Agricultural Innovator of the Year. For which project did you win the award?

This is a multi-round competition. First, I was nominated by Dr Anikó Juhász, Deputy State Secretary for Agricultural Economy at the Ministry of Agriculture. Then, after a selection process, there were two candidates in each category, who were interviewed by a committee, and it was decided based on that. A major contribution to the nomination was made by the National Table Grape Exhibition and Competition organised by our institute for the second time in 2023, and the announcement of state certification for 20 new resistant table grape varieties. Both have received a lot of professional feedback, and this is just one part of the whole project. We are working on concentrating the research and breeding of domestic varieties of table grapes in Pécs.

Thus, I also feel that this award is a tribute to the work of all my colleagues at the institute, and that good results are achieved through true teamwork. 

 

What do you do in addition to being research director and managing the gene bank? What is your area of expertise?

Although this has only taken up a small amount of my time in recent years, my main research interests are plant physiology and stress physiology. I deal with the drought tolerance of grapevines and their responses to various environmental stresses. I wrote my doctoral thesis on this in 2009. At that time, we were just talking about how climate change could cause serious problems. But it has now become one of the most pressing problems. This research is closely linked to the gene bank and breeding. Looking ahead three years, we are working on a Horizon international project starting this year, which will also focus on gene bank research and breeding. There are many tasks ahead for me and for us.

 

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