Author: dr. Gabriella Mészáros, Dániel Ercsey Photo: Árpád Pintér
The Romans also cultivated vines in the region, but after the conquest in 996, the first Benedictines who settled on St Martin’s Hill (Szent Márton hegy) gave a real boost to viticulture. The founding charter of the Pannonhalma Abbey (St Stephen, 1002) already mentions grapes as a first-rate, sub-tithe crop. The Pannonhalma Abbey is still one of the Benedictine Order’s most famous monasteries. The wine district was the first region after the Hungarian conquest where viticulture and wine production in the estate and villages belonging to the Benedictine Archabbey was documented in charters. According to legend, St Benedict settled on Cassinum Hill (today’s Monte Cassino) in Italy and founded a monastery in 529; he then regulated the life of the monastic community with a carefully edited Regula. He considered it a fundamental task to order the monks’ daily lives within a rational framework that was also pleasing to God.
The development of the wine district was steady until Turkish times, and it also survived the Tartar invasion. St Ladislaus’s 1093 Pannonhalma estate census mentions 88 vineyards. The 13th-century census (the Alebus register around 1237) shows that there were 256 grape-growing families in the 90 villages belonging to the abbey.
The Turkish occupation, like everywhere else in the country, also set viticulture back here. After their expulsion, Germans and Slovaks were settled in the depopulated villages and, along with animal husbandry, viticulture slowly became the region’s most important agricultural activity.
The Napoleonic Wars was another impetus for development. In the second half of the 19th century before phylloxera, which unfortunately did not spare the region, there were 40-50 varieties cultivated here on about 2,000 hectares. At that time, red wine was even exported from here to the United States. By the First World War, the area under vine had shrunk to around 1,000 hectares and is now little more than 600 hectares. It has been recognised as an independent wine district since 1990.
The Pannonhalma wine district is located in the north-western part of Transdanubia, north of the Bakony Range, at the edge of the Kisalföld. The Pannonhalma, Csanak and Szemere Hills form the core of the region, with its highest peak reaching just 317 metres.
The wine district is located administratively in Győr-Moson-Sopron County. It includes the 1st and 2nd class vineyards, as per the vineyard cadastre, of the towns and villages of Écs, Felpéc, Győr-Ménfőcsanak, Győrság, Győrszemere, Győrújbarát, Kajárpéc, Nyalka, Nyúl, Pannonhalma, Pázmándfalu, Ravazd and Tényő.
The total area of the Pannonhalma wine district is 3,944 hectares of which 3,236 are 1st class vineyards. It is lamentable that only a fraction of this area, about 625 hectares, is currently under vine.
The bedrock of the Sokoróalja Hills is composed of Upper Miocene (Pannonian-Pontic Era) lake sand and clay as well as Quaternary gravel and sand. Loess and brown soil settled over this. Brown forest soils and thin, loamy-loess soils of medium consistency formed over the sand and loess, with mosaic-like patches of sand.
The region’s weather is temperate, with a moderate continental climate. Compared with the national average, it boasts moderate sunlight, heat and good levels of precipitation; it is relatively windy.
It is traditionally a white wine region. Nowadays, Olaszrizling, Chardonnay, Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris (Szürkebarát) and Irsai Olivér are the most cultivated varieties. The proportion of black grapes is negligible, although the cool climate favours the cultivation of varieties with high acidity, such as Kékfrankos, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
The wine district is characterised by wines typical to cool climates, which are aromatic but also rich in flavour. It is important to note that Pannonhalma is not only the cradle of “ethereal”, light, summer wines, but, due to its soils, also characterful, full-bodied wines with pronounced acidity. In the 1980s and 1990s, Pannonhalma also produced more full-bodied, oxidative wines, such as the Pannonhalma Riesling bottled by the farmers’ cooperative, which can now only be found in wine museums. This was, incidentally, the region’s most famous 20th-century wine brand. A quiet sensation was caused in 2002, when the Pannonhalma Abbey and the Hungarian Foreign Trade Bank signed an agreement which resulted in the revival of Pannonhalma’s ancient monastic wine production tradition. Their first wine, from the 2003 vintage, was released with the name Tricollis. Pinot Noir is the one black grape that is able to show its full worth here. In good vintages, low-yield Chardonnay and Pinot Noir produce lovely wines with great balance and complexity. Varieties, such as Riesling (Rajnai Rizling), Traminer and Pinot Blanc, which yield outstanding wines in Alsace, also produce lovely wines here on the slopes of the Pannonhalma Hill.