Author: dr. Gabriella Mészáros, Dániel Ercsey Photo: Árpád Pintér
Wine production in the region was already documented in the 11th century, and viticulture and winemaking continued throughout the Middle Ages and during the Turkish wars, mainly as an ancillary occupation for people’s own consumption but also partly for export. However, it is unclear whether this wine was particularly good quality or renowned.
Viticulture on a larger scale began at the end of the 18th century and continued into the 19th century. The main purpose of this was to bind the areas with drifting sands by planting vines and fruit trees. However, the importance of vines grown on sandy soils was greatly increased by the situation at the time of the phylloxera catastrophe. While almost 90% of the country’s vineyards in hilly regions were destroyed, viticulture and winemaking continued undisturbed on sandy soils immune to phylloxera. This not only temporarily increased the ideological value of vines grown on sand, but also brought significant financial benefits because of the “fall-out” of competitors affected by phylloxera. After 1892, the Kecskemét Viticulture Research Institute was established by state decree. Outstanding people, such as the world-famous grape breeder, János Mathiász, worked here.
The dangerous phylloxera pest could not survive in sandy areas, so these vineyards increased in value; moreover, the number of vineyards in the wine district multiplied by the end of the 19th century. From the 1970s onwards, the planting of quality varieties and varieties for sparkling wine has become increasingly important. Between the two World Wars, Kecskemét Pecsenye Fehér and sweet Kecskemét Leányka were famed, as was Csengőd Olaszrizling.
Alföld Nemes Kadarka (Noble Kadarka of the Great Plain) was made in the second half of the 20th century. It was a medium-dry red, late-harvested, small-batch wine that was popular in its day. The titratable acid content, including tartaric acid, of Alföld Kadarka is relatively low; however, it usually has higher alcohol than most other black grapes. Its low tannins made it very approachable for a certain type of consumer. In the past, popular wine styles such as kastélyos or siller were made from Kadarka.
The Kunság wine district, first called Kiskunság, was carved out of the former Great Plain wine region in 1990. It is therefore not a historic wine region, although it is one of the wine regions listed in the 1897 law, but only as a region producing wine for home consumption. There was a serious difference of opinion at the time between wine for home consumption and quality wine. The area of the wine district was significantly expanded in 1997.
It is the largest wine district on the Great Plain and in Hungary as a whole. Its name is misleading as it does not cover the whole of Kunság, but only the historic Kiskunság region. Most of the wine district is located between the Danube and the Tisza, only extending beyond the Tisza in the Tiszaföldvár area.
The wine district is also part of the Kiskunság sand bank in the strictest sense, the southern part of the Pest Plain, the Solti Plain, Csepel Island and the Jászság loess ridges.
This vast wine district belongs administratively to Pest, Bács-Kiskun, Csongrád, Szolnok and Heves counties.
The vineyards of 95 towns and villages divided into eight subdistricts are legally included in the wine district. The Kunság wine district is the most extensive in Hungary. Its total potential planting area is 103,863 hectares, of which the number in under vine is now less than 19,200 hectares.
Soils are mostly calcareous sand, with patches of secondary loess-loam, grassland and meadow soils. In some places, cohesive loam and clay subsoils are covered with a thin mantle of sand. There are areas of pale, dry drifting sands with low humus content, while there are also darker sandy soils rich in humus and nutrients, mixed with loess as well as acidic sandy soils of Tisza origin.
The climate of the Great Plain is varied and extreme during the growing season.
It is characterised by a continental climate, i.e. hot, sunny summers and cold, dry winters. It has high heat summation and a high number of sunshine hours, especially along the lower reaches of the Tisza. Droughty summers, frosty cold winters and spring and autumn frosts are also quite common. This is one of the Hungarian wine districts with the highest risk of frost. It is common for vines to experience sun scorch and heat stroke on very hot days. Precipitation is extremely low, receiving around 100 mm of rainfall in many years. Yield reliability is the worst of all the Hungarian wine districts.
The wine district’s traditional white varieties were Kövidinka, Kunleánya, Arany Sárfehér, Piros Szlanka and Pozsonyi Fehér. Nowadays, there are also plantings of Bianca, Cserszegi Fűszeres and Ezerjó as well as small quantities of Riesling (Rajnai Rizling) and Olaszrizling. Large amounts of Zalagyöngye are also grown, but these are rarely bottled on their own. Kadarka is the traditional red variety, but Kékfrankos and Zweigelt are equally popular.
Most of the country’s low-cost wine is produced in the Kunság wine district. The area’s so-called “sand-grown wines” are made from a wide palette of different grape varieties. They are usually light and soft, poorer in aromatics and not as full-bodied as wines grown in hilly wine regions. They are generally simple table wines that age quickly. The region’s white wines are generally soft, light and low in alcohol, depending on the soil. Its reds are one dimensional and often lacking complexity. Both a reduction in yields and the use of quality wine grape varieties can also produce higher quality wines. The wine district is best known for its simple, reductive white and rosé wines for early consumption. Large quantities of aromatic wines are produced in the area, targeted as an everyday wine for younger consumers. Most producers’ top wines are made from Ezerjó or Riesling (Rajnai Rizling), while Kékfrankos, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are also connected to higher-quality categories. As sandy soils are less able to retain any mineral content, wines from here are less likely to win fans due to their concentration, but rather because of their purity and lightness.