The first day of my November 2022 trip to the annual Franc & Franc Forum in Villány, Hungary, we arrived late due to flight delays. Our guide asked my group if we wanted to skip the tastings to freshen up at the hotel and join everyone at dinner – or attend the tastings, but arrive at the first tasting a little late. I had been awake for about 36 hours, but I said yes to the tastings.
As we entered the tasting space at Siklósi Vár (Siklós Castle), the first vintner-winemaker I met was Péter Bakonyi of Bakonyi Pincészet Villány.
He poured for me two white wines, Széllel szemben – an organic, co-fermented blend of 55% Hárslevelű and 45% Furmint – and Csavargó – a blend of 50% Grüner Veltliner, 20% Királyleányka, 20% Hárslevelű, and 10% Olaszrizling. I wasn’t expecting to taste any whites since I was at a Cabernet Franc conference, so I was pleasantly surprised to taste these fresh, juicy blends. I captured a couple of videos and photos of Péter. I also asked for his business card, but he didn’t have any.
My intuition nagged at me. I knew he must have a story to tell. Luckily I discovered him and his winery on social media in early January 2023. We connected and I asked him if I could interview him. What a story!
1. Everyone has a story. What is yours? My hometown of Nagyatád is not in a wine region, but my father made his own wine for his own consumption from his hobby vineyard in Ötvöskónyi. My grammar school was in Pécs (a nice Mediterranean city) on Széchenyi Square. It was there as a teenager in the mid-1990s that I became amazed by the new Villány wines I tasted at festivals in the square.
I learned more chemistry than most and had originally planned to be a veterinarian. However, I was in love with wine, so I decided to look for a university where viticulture and oenology were taught at the highest level. That was in Budapest. I graduated as an MSc horticulture engineer. My specialization was vine protection. My first job was at Villány Csányi Winery as vineyard manager for six years. I already had a half-hectare estate with a press house for a year.
As a young adult, I messed up a vineyard purchase with my parents who financed it. We were not informed about the legal access to my press house among the dirt roads with no direct connection to the main public road. It turned out we had trespassed on my neighbor’s field where everyone else had driven through for 30 years. My neighbor promised to legalize access, but after she planted the road with graftings, she changed her mind. Therefore, I was forced to start legal actions against her to gain access. Despite a simple case, it took me three years to physically reach my house by car. I won the lawsuit in 2008.
During those years, I bottled my first wine and I designed a label with paint brush as a joke with the other neighbors who did not believe I would win the case. They had suggested saving up for a helicopter, by which I would reach my home sooner than by car. In that original label design, I was the pilot waving at a stick figure and my photo ID is my face like in a Monty Python movie scene.
In the mid-2000s, Berlin Wein Trophy searched for foreign members for the jury. I participated for five years as a member of the jury. We had an off program where we introduced our wines to local dealers and consumers. This was my only wine – and despite the fact that I envisioned a more serious label – Max, my first dealer, insisted on this one when he reordered wines because I was the only fool who put a helicopter on the label and the buyers remembered it.
I could have had a wheelbarrow on my label because after I won the lawsuit, I had to wait for a year until I was entitled to access to the road, which I had to clean up by myself because my neighbor did not do it. However, I paid for the current 3.0 version instead. All the back label corners have a small helicopter and Csavargó has it on the front as well. Max has bought a pallet of that wine every year for 14 years. It made sense.
Although I am a plant protection engineer, I switched to organic production in 2007 because my health is more important than the vine’s. In other words, I stay on the safe side. I believe the results of oenology science, that organic farming provides more transparent, healthier, and safer wines.
2. What year was your winery founded? What and when was your first wine release?
In 2002 I transported my first bulk Portugieser to my university dormitory. I bottled my first wine in 2004, then founded my current portfolio with Josef Kerl in 2011.
3. Why is your tagline Villány Underground? I do not make mainstream Villány wines like Hárslevelű-Furmint blends or bold, rich Cabernet Franc with “fatty creaminess” in Bourgogne bottles. I am one of the first to make organic wines from Villány.
Ironically, I am also the co-founder of the Villány kite flier club, so I’m not completely underground. 😉
4. Which grape varieties do you grow in your 5 hectares of vineyards? Which varieties do you purchase from other vineyards? And approximately how much wine do you make annually (number of bottles)? We have more than 3 hectares of Cabernet Franc, 1.3 hectares of Kékfrankos, and the rest is planted mainly to white grapes like Olaszrizling, Királyleányka, Hárslevelű, and Furmint. Sometimes I buy Grüner Veltliner and Hárslevelű from other producers. I make around 20,000 bottles (approximately 1,666 12-bottle cases).
5. Do you have any favorite wines? If so, why are they your favorites? Széllel szemben 2021 – this is an outstanding wine, but some Hungarians cannot think “outside the box” and won’t accept it.
Cabernet Franc 2020 (aged eight months, 50/50 in stainless steel and barrel) – I can drink a bottle alone in one evening. That is something in Villány. I am proud of it. 🙂
6. Tell me how you chose the names of your white wine blends – Csavargó and Széllel szemben. Csavargó means hobo/vagabond.
Csavar means screw and gó means almost the same thing in English, so “go screw cap.” In 2010, I was one of the first producers who used screw caps.
Széllel szemben means against the wind.
1. The slope faces north towards the wind.
2. It is an unusual wine from Villány, so it goes against the mainstream, but I believe that is why it is so exciting for open-minded people.
7. Do you have any new or different wines you will be releasing in 2023? Two Pétillants Naturels (Pét-Nats) made from Kékfrankos rosé and Olaszrizling Királyleányka.
8. Where and when does one taste your wines? Is there a fee to taste? At Villány Dózsa u. 33 (33 Dózsa György Street), and at Budaörs Kőhíd u. 2 (2 Budaörs Kőhíd Street). with advance reservations. We charge for the bottles we open for the tasting, but any leftover wines may be taken home.
9. Are your wines exported to the United States or any other countries? Belgium and the Netherlands, but I would like to export to the USA.
10. Is there anything else you would like to share that I won’t find anywhere else? Josef Kerl, a retired music teacher, found me in 2010 to work with an expert in a winery on his estate. We founded the Ltd. in 2011. He had never taken part actively in day-to-day operations, work, but had an acceptable background in the beginning. The other side of the business is vineyard machine work service for other estates and acting as vineyard manager. Kerl passed away in 2021. The probate has been slow, but his two sons seem willing to be future partners.
On his website Péter writes, “My first taste and smell experiences showed that the wine has a strong, beyond-words message that the world is more beautiful than what we see. And I, too, yearn for what cannot be expressed in words, for an experience beyond understanding.”
It is this passion that drives Péter – and finds its way into every one of his wines.
Péter Bakonyi photo courtesy of Bakonyi Pincészet
Republished by permission. Original publication at this link.
Dr. Elizabeth Smith is a former college professor and wine club manager turned award-winning wine writer and wine and writing competition judge. Her day job is wine and winemaker copywriter at Naked Wines USA. Elizabeth is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International Sacramento and Sonoma Chapters, the Circle of Wine Writers and the Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association. Connect with Elizabeth at easmith.net/contact.
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