Endowed with a unique geology and climate, Hungary can satisfy all demands for diversity and variety, in terms of wine production. In Europe, only Hungary and France are capable of producing both white and red wines that represent true quality, by international standards, since the ingredients required for a wide range of wines, can only be found in these two countries.

The tradition of viniculture, is a key asset in Hungary’s national heritage. Wine played a major role at the time of the Hungarian tribes. Travellers and 5th century Byzantine encyclopaedias, mentioned the high number of vineyards planted by Hungarian tribes, which drank milk and wine as their two staple beverages. Major agreements and treaties were regularly accompanied by “wine blessing”, which confirmed the commitments of signatories. The habit and ceremony of blood oaths, the joint drinking of wine, which contained droplets of blood, were attributed to peoples culturally related to the Hungarians, by Herodotus and to Hungarians by some Byzantine chronicles. Of the languages now spoken in Europe, only Hungarian and Greek have their own words for “wine”.  As early as the Antiquity, the Hungarians wrote the words for grape, wine and toast with their own letters.

Tripartite origin

The first archaeological findings indicative of grapes and wine in Hungary, dates back to the Celts in the 1st century BC. The Romans did not only conquer by the sword, but also by the plough and the pruning knife. Hungarian winemaking has three traditional roots. The Hungarians introduced their traditions brought from Central Asia, and the Caucasus region. In the Roman province of Pannonia, and especially in the Upper Balaton region, they adopted Roman practices. These two sources came to blend with the expertise and tastes of Benedictine missionaries, other teaching orders, and settlers from Italy, Burgundy, Anjou and the Rhine Valley.

The first mention of vineyard governments, called “promontories” (hillside villages), was made in 1271. Litigation records on wine origin and especially the Municipal Statute of Buda, first published in 1244, attest to a well-established vineyard regime, and wine law at that time. Hungarian winemaking in the 19th century The first Hungarian wine journal was published in 1836. That same year, a committee was set up to hinder adulteration. In 1892, “wine consumption tax” and “off-licence duty”, were united under the name “wine tax”. Grape growers were given tax benefits. In 1895, Parliament passed the Hillside Village Act, which improved the protection of wine appellation and trade representation. A year later the first viticulture research institute was born.

In the second half of the 19th century, the rural grape and wine departments of national authorities along with the relevant societies, made a major contribution to the fight against phylloxera, which wiped out most of the vineyards in Europe. Teleki Graft Farm in Villány, spearheaded the ultimate solution for grafting and grafts growing. Hungarian scions were shipped across Europe to replant bare vineyards. Mass production under the Communist regime Despite damage caused by invasions and World War II, Hungarian wine production grew fast between 1938 and 1948.

The country produced the first national vineyard registered in Europe. The fast recovery was nipped in the bud in 1949, when Soviet dictatorship descended on the country. Wine became a mass produced merchandize. In 1969 cooperatives and state farms were allowed once again to develop wine production and trade. In the 1970s and 80s, these facilities had a wide-ranging coordinating role, and trained thousands of highly skilled professionals. Unfortunately, two-thirds of the new wineries failed to meet the requirements of international competitiveness, and gave rise to unreasonable territorial imbalances. This eventually took a heavy toll on several renowned Hungarian wine regions. Hungary mass-produced poor quality wine as a result. Research suffered a severe setback in 1982, when the facilities of the Research Institute of Viticulture and Oenology, boasting of international acclaim since 1896, which were taken over by state-run wine companies, they proved to be incompetent managers.

Return to quality

Privatisation ushered in a new era in Hungarian wine history, between 1990 and 1994. Despite a number of controversies, with the interests of former owners and the professional conditions of land ownership being ignored, the grounds were prepared for family vineyards, and genuine wine cellar cooperatives. Hungarian winemakers were able to restore the conditions for quality winemaking, and to recover the international reputation of their produces whenever they received sufficient political support. The comment of Pál Teleki, a former Prime Minister of Hungary, still applies: “Hungary will always be capable of producing quality, rather than quantity.”

Source: Dr. Sándor Tóth – Dr. Gábor Rohály: Terra benedicta – Blessed land, AKÓ Publisher 2004