Author: dr. Gabriella Mészáros, Dániel Ercsey Photo: Árpád Pintér
The city may have been founded by Celts, and this was then named Scarabantia by the Romans. Archaeological finds suggest viticulture was most likely practised here by the Romans. The vineyards of Sopron County are first mentioned in a contract of gift dated 1230. Further mention of wine production can be found in one of the deeds, dated 1270, of King Stephen V, which shows that the archers of Sopron County already possessed extensive vineyards at that time, which yielded a large amount of wine. The city’s foundation charter from 1277 also mentions collection of the wine tithe.
The settlement of immigrants from Lower Austria, which began in the 13th century, reached its peak in the 14th century. These new inhabitants of Sopron, which then turned into a thoroughly German city, also brought more advanced grape processing and winemaking techniques from the west.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, Sopron wine became one of Hungary’s most popular exports to the rest of Europe.
Wine was the number one source of income for the Hungarian and German citizens of Sopron and remained so until the end of the 18th century. Winemaking in Sopron was already commemorated in the first Hungarian winemaking books. In 1723, for example, Mátyás Bél observes that if Lake Fertő is full of water, then the wines are better and more abundant, however, if Lake Fertő dries up, the yield is smaller and of poorer quality. This can be explained by the fact that wetter years, when the Lake’s water level also rose, were more favourable for the grapes to swell and botrytise than drought years.
Vines formed a significant part of the property of the Sopron bourgeoisie in the 18th century. The right to sell wine could be exercised freely by the producers themselves, with some regulation, as it was not permitted to import wine from elsewhere. In the 19th century, similarly to other Hungarian wine region, quantitative production came to the fore, which was then halted by the destruction wreaked by phylloxera.
Phylloxera appeared in Sopron’s vineyards in the 1890s, almost completely destroying them. Wine production then took a new turn, with two significant results that can still be felt today: the varietal mix changed, and viticulture, which had been a dominant economic activity in the city, was pushed into the background. The situation was further aggravated by the fact that in 1946, at the behest of the victorious Allies of the Second World War, most of the German-speaking citizens working in viticulture were expelled from Sopron. The establishment of a state-owned farm and producer cooperatives without any sense of ownership was the last blow to the cultivation of their orphaned vines.
The Sopron wine district is located in the foothills of the Alps, on the Sopron Hills and the southern and western shores of Lake Fertő. It is a direct continuation of the vineyard areas of the Leithaberg, Rust and Neusiedl regions of the Austrian Burgenland. The vineyards are located in two large blocks. The first, and perhaps the more suitable for viticulture, is the area in the north, between Fertőrákos, Lake Fertő and the village of Balf. This area slopes down towards Lake Fertő. The other area stretches east from Sopron to Fertőszentmiklós. There are also vineyards to the south of the city, along the road leading to the village of Harka.
The wine district is in the Győr-Moson-Sopron County and includes the 1st and 2nd class vineyards, as per the vineyard cadastre, of the towns and villages of Fertőboz, Fertőendréd, Fertőrákos, Fertőszentmiklós, Fertőszéplak, Harka, Hidegség, Kópháza and Sopron. A few years ago, the vineyards of Kőszeg, Csepreg and Vaskeresztes were also added to the wine district.
The total area of the Sopron wine district is 4,287 hectares, of which 3,236 hectares are classified as 1st class. However, only a small part, 1,543 hectares, is currently under vine.
The metamorphic crystalline gneiss and mica schist that make up the Sopron Hills were formed during the Palaeozoic.
These old formations are overlain with Miocene gravel, loam, Leitha limestone, coal and Pannonian sandstone, covered by Quaternary loess. Loess and loam soils, brown forest soils and loose Pleistocene soils formed over the weathered Sarmatian and Pannonian debris, limestone and loess. The abundant ranker rich in rock debris is a characteristic soil type evolved from crystalline slate.
The region’s climate is temperate, mildly continental, although considered rather cool and rainy compared to the rest of the country, with the subalpine effect prevailing. The summer is also cool, and it is the wettest Hungarian wine district, although winters are mild. There is also plenty of breeze in the region. (As the locals say: “In Sopron, it’s either raining or windy, or else the bells are ringing...”)
Nowadays, Sopron and its surroundings are mainly known for cultivating black grapes (black grapes are grown on three-quarters of its area), together with a small quantity of white grapes. The Sopron wine district is currently overwhelmingly dominated by Kékfrankos. The next most planted varieties are Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon, but they lag far behind. Traditional Zöldveltelini as well as Chardonnay and Zenit are the most planted white varieties.
The vineyards are located on the hills around Lake Fertő and on the southern and eastern slopes of the Sopron Hills. The vineyards benefit from a relatively favourable microclimate as the south-facing hillsides are protected from the cold by the mass of the hills to the north-west. Some of the region’s best vineyards are already known to discerning wine lovers. Grapes grown on the Spern Steiner, Frettner, Neuberg, Rothepeter and Höllesgrund vineyards produce wines rich in mineral notes, provided the wine itself is also sufficiently concentrated.
The former Rust-Bratislava-Sopron wine region did not always produce exactly what it does today. Prior to phylloxera, predominantly white grapes were grown in the region. Furmint was considered the best quality grape variety in the Sopron wine region in the 18th century. Given the right weather conditions, late-harvested Aszú wines were also produced. Its high demand abroad and chemical properties ensuring it could be safely transported over long distances made Aszú an important commodity.
The combination of slightly lower temperatures than the national average and its brilliant terroir yields ripe wines with a clearly defined backbone of beautifully nuanced acidity in the best years. Undoubtedly, the area cannot guarantee this in every vintage and, to be honest, producers also need some patience. Sopron is an exciting, unique wine region for wine lovers to explore.
It is a region more suited to white wine production yet is clearly loved because of its red wines. Nowadays, despite its notoriously cool climate, Sopron produces some attractive, approachable Kékfrankos-dominant red wines, that have undergone malolactic fermentation. They boast appealing acidity, plenty of fruit and beautiful tightness. Its Kékfrankos is often characterised by notes of violet and raspberry. It is a wine district where Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir also shine, producing radiant wines. However, the Sopron producers never really made it back to the starting block in the case of white wines. The areas around Eisenstadt in Austria often produce appealing wines from Zöldveltelini, yet it has never become the key white variety across the board.