Author: Author: dr. Gabriella Mészáros, Dániel Ercsey Photo: Árpád Pintér
Archaeological finds attest to viticulture flourishing in the Balaton Highlands 2,000 years ago, including near Badacsony. This was thanks to the Romans; one of their military routes also skirted the foot of the Badacsony Hill and is today still known as “Roman Way” (Római út). The Hungarian conquest left its wine culture that had continued unbroken since Roman times undamaged. Documented sources note that, in the 13th century, some of the vineyards in the wine region were owned by the Church, while others belonged to the Atyusz family estates. For example, this family built the Almád Monastery near Monostorapáti and the Szigliget Castle as well as supplying wine to the royal court. The region, which was part of the border fortress zone, was semi-depopulated during the Turkish wars, and viticulture declined. However, it gained new strength from the 18th century, when new vineyards were planted, and more modern techniques started to produce the wines that were to make Badacsony famous. Many noble families, including some living further afield, owned vineyards with press houses on the vine-covered slopes. For example, members of the Tóti-Lengyel family, who claimed to own the most beautiful press house on Szent György-hegy (Mount Saint George), sailed over regularly from Somogy to supervise work in the vineyards and enjoy their wines. By the 18th century, Kéknyelű, which emphasised Badacsony’s distinctive character, was already the most typical variety in the region and the most widespread in the vineyards on Badacsony Hill which belonged to the aristocracy. The main varieties at that time were Hungarian varieties, with Szigeti, or white Furmint, being particularly widespread. In the 19th century, Furmint was replaced by Olaszrizling, while Oportó, aka Portugieser, also began to spread. Other unique varieties in the Badacsony area included Budai Zöld and Szlanka, which was co-planted with Kéknyelű.
It is located in the centre of Transdanubia, on the northern shore of Lake Balaton, encompassing the volcanic cones of the Tapolca Basin, Kál Basin, Badacsony, Szigliget, Gulács, Tóti hegy, Szent György-hegy, Csobánc and Hajagos.
The wine district has diverse soils. The slopes of the volcanic hills here and there are covered by loess mixed with clayey and sandy sediments on their lower parts, and increasingly with basalt and basaltic tuff debris at higher elevations. Accordingly, there are loamy soils mixed with basalt debris at the bottom of the hills, while the steep, often terraced slopes, are covered with loamy basalt debris, which lends the local wines pronounced acidity, full body and richness of flavour. There are also patches of black erubase soil over pure basalt bedrock. Besides the weathered basalt soils mixed with basalt debris that are perfectly suited for wine production, there are also pure loam soils and even, exceptionally, limestone soils around Salföld or Tapolca.
The area suitable for viticulture in the wine district, according to the vineyard cadastre classification, is 4,277 hectares, which are mostly 1st class vineyards. The area under vine is currently 1,404 hectares, of which 1,142 are productive. White varieties generally dominate in the vineyards.
The region is characterised by a temperate continental climate with moderate heat and sunshine. However, what is special from a viticultural perspective is the region’s microclimate. This microclimate is influenced not only by the geographical position of the south-facing slopes, which are protected from the north wind by a very favourable slope, but also by the additional solar radiation reflected the expanse of Lake Balaton. And there have been few descriptions in the literature, at least in the last hundred years, that have failed to mention this. However, the reality is a little different: Lake Balaton’s water is not a large reflector that illuminates the vineyards directly, but rather as diffused light, reflecting the solar radiation in all directions. Moreover, it is mostly on a different wavelength than what the vines could utilise. So, this photometric effect is certainly negligible, whereas the thermal behaviour of Lake Balaton’s water mass is more important. The heat of the water can reduce the effects of sudden bursts of cold air for hours on end, and, in summer, especially on hot summer nights, it ensures the aeration that is physiologically important for overheated vines. This, for example, helps prevent the premature degradation of acidity, which is so important for wine. At the same time, the water mass also ensures higher air humidity. Particularly on sunny, wind-protected, 20-30° south and southwestern-facing slopes, this creates a favourable microclimate for vines, sometimes reminiscent of a sub-Mediterranean climate.
White varieties include Olaszrizling, Pinot Gris (Szürkebarát), Müller-Thurgau (Rizlingszilváni in Hungarian), Kéknyelű, Riesling (Rajnai Rizling) (Rajnai Rizling), Traminer, Muscat Ottonel (Ottonel Muskotály), Budai Zöld and Zeus, while Pinot Noir makes up the lion’s share of black grapes, with Kékfrankos, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zweigelt also cultivated. Nowadays, the Badacsony wine district is clearly a white wine region. By the 20th century, Olaszrizling had become its most characteristic variety, but Budai Zöld has remained as a kind of curiosum, as well as small amounts of Furmint, Pinot Gris (Szürkebarát) and Kéknyelű. Wines produced from Riesling (Rajnai Rizling) have also seen a recent leap in quality. This hardy variety also yields excellent wines on the warm volcanic soils.
Olaszrizling’s relatively high reliability has meant that it has been the basis of powerful wines for many years. It ages well but can also be appreciated in its youth. Therefore, it is hardly a surprise that, some years ago, the Lake Balaton producers, and above all the growing number of boutique producers in Badacsony, began to base their wines on Olaszrizling. This includes all the wine districts around the lake and has resulted in a uniform wine that is easy to communicate. The BALATON wine (BalatonBor) is produced with a uniform appearance and meeting certain quality criteria in all the wine districts on the shores of Lake Balaton. The task now facing the wine districts is to better highlight the uniqueness of its terroirs.
There has been a significant improvement concerning the basic wines, but the diversity of its landscapes and soils can only be communicated through greater selection of vineyards or individual parcels. Most vintages yield full-bodied, well-structured, ageworthy wines that, in most vintages, boast mellow tones derived from the region’s proximity to the water. You can often sense the sun’s rays in the wines, which balances their more serious side with some playful vibrancy. The names of Badacsony and Kéknyelű have merged over the centuries. Unfortunately, cultivating this variety requires a great deal of work and patience. However, assuming there are no issues with fertilisation, boasts extremely elegant acidity, which also forms the basis of a truly ageworthy, unique wine style.