Author: Author: dr. Gabriella Mészáros, Dániel Ercsey Photo: Árpád Pintér
The 2,000-year-old tradition of viticulture lives on in the Balaton Highlands wine district. The Celts were already producing wine in this region, but viticulture truly gained ground in Roman times and has been pursued continuously ever since. Hungarian wine production can also be traced back about 1,000 years, as this region has been a significant wine-producing area since the Middle Ages. Much of the wine supplied to the royal court during the Árpád era came from here. The Almás and Salföld monasteries, which once stood on the edge of the Kál Basin, also produced wine for sale as well as for their own use.
The areas that make up today’s Badacsony, Balatonfüred-Csopak and Balaton Highlands wine districts were part of the Balatonmelléke wine region in the last century. The once unified wine-producing area was renamed the Badacsony wine district on the basis of the Wine Regions Act of 1893, which led to the separation of the Badacsony wine district in its strictest sense and the “remaining” western Balaton Highlands wine-producing areas in the early 1990s after various name changes. The wine district thus formed was first given the name Balatonmelléki, thereby increasing the confusion created by the lawyers, as this name referred to the southern Balaton wine-producing that had existed between the two world wars and not been entirely successful. The name of the Balaton Highlands wine district was only enshrined in law in 1999 and finally seems to becoming permanent.
The cellars and press houses in the vineyards have played a distinct role in the viticulture and wine culture of the Balaton Highlands, and they have left their mark on today’s landscape. Besides these simple, peasant cellars, there are also numerous cellars which were built by the lesser nobility and the middle classes in peasant baroque and folk classicism styles. The Festetics press house in Cserszegtomaj and the Taverna in Gyenesdiás are particularly lovely examples.
It covers the area on the northern shore stretching from Keszthely to Zánka, except for the Badacsony wine district. It is divided into three subdistricts, the western and northern parts of the Kál Basin form the Kál subdistrict, while the Balatonedericsi-Lesencei subdistrict lies on the eastern slopes of the Keszthely Hills and the Cserszeg subdistrict on the southern and western slopes of the same hills. The following towns and villages belong to the wine district: Balatonhenye, Hegyesd, Köveskál, Mindszentkálla, Monostorapáti, Szentbékkálla (Kál subdistrict), Balatonederics, Csabrendek, Lesencefalu, Lesenceistvándi, Lesencetomaj, Nemesvita, Sáska, Sümeg, Sümegprága, Zalahaláp (Balatonederics-Lesence subdistrict), as well as Balatongyörök, Cserszegtomaj, Gyenesdiás, Hévíz-Egregy, Rezi, Várvölgy and Vonyarcvashegy (Cserszeg subdistrict).
The entire production area is 5,164 hectares, but there are currently only 730 hectares under vine.
The Kál Basin is characterised by dolomite, limestone and marl mixed with volcanic debris.
The prevailing climate is continental, but there has been a considerable increase in temperature in the wine district in the last few years. Summers are generally temperate, followed by warm early autumns.
The most widely planted variety and the one with the oldest tradition is Olaszrizling. (An almost single-variety wine region.) This is followed by Pinot Gris (Szürkebarát) and Chardonnay, while Müller-Thurgau (Rizlingszilváni in Hungarian), Traminer and Zöldveltelini are also widely cultivated. It is basically a white wine region, although the cultivation of Pinot Noir in the Lesence subdistrict can be traced back more than a hundred years. The warming climate means that increasing numbers of producers are also turning to Kékfrankos and the Bordeaux varieties, which prefer warmer conditions.
There are many beautifully structured white wines emerging in the region, primarily from Olaszrizling. This is the most widespread variety, although Furmint and Juhfark are also traditional. The last decade has seen a transition from a quantity to a quality-driven approach beginning to prevail among wine producers in the region. There has been voluntary yield restrictions only on some estates, although people have known for centuries that overburdened vines do not produce “great wines”.
The Kál Basin wines are perhaps the most characterful of the three districts. Their mineral notes, pronounced acidity and moderate alcohol generally result in very well-balanced, distinctive wines. Wines from the Balaton Highlands are typically ageworthy and can be appreciated for many years. Their alcohol and acidity levels mean that they are also well-suited to long oak ageing. Low-yielding vines and long ageing brings out varietal character in wines which are a true reflection of their terroir. It is home to wines that are both elegant and charming. Sümeg, a little further away from the Balaton, also belongs here. The wines produced were always highly regarded, while it was also known for sparkling wine production.