Chardonnay-Tramini Skin Contact
Arpád Tomcsányi, the grower and winemaker of the eponymous family winery, is not originally from Somló, or from any other wine region for that matter. As he casually walks towards us among his vines to welcome us to his tiny estate one sunny afternoon in May, none of us would have suspected that the young bearded man in flannel shirt was actually born to a family of Budapest doctors. It’s not just the outer appearance, though: more importantly, this former film student and TV exec shows a true dedication to the volcanic soils that he works and a true passion for living in sync with nature. “My wife and I were actually longing to leave the capital. We wanted to raise our kids near nature, to live in a quieter place. We wanted to be able to dedicate more time and more attention to each other. We wanted a garden where we could plant flowers, bushes and trees, wear muddy boots and dirty trousers,” he recalls.
Funnily enough, his family’s purchase of the property on the western side of Somló hill was something of an accident – Arpád’s father, a cardiologist, got a tip from a patient of his just when they were looking for a house in Balaton. Reluctant about this region at first, Arpád’s parents “spent a couple of days here, fell in love with the place and ended up buying this house with an old cellar surrounded by vines,” the young winemaker recalls. Not surprisingly, the area ended up growing on Arpád as well. At first, the vines were taken care of by a local helper who lived in the area and also made the wines. “But the wines were so bad, I couldn’t drink them. So at one point, around 2015, I told my father ‘listen, this is terrible. I can’t make the wine any worse than it is now, so how about I give it a try myself?’,” he laughs.
Far from trial and error, Arpád set out on a smartly self-orchestrated path combining both theory and experience, from a WSET diploma to visiting many low-intervention producers in Hungary and beyond, in order to taste, understand and get inspired – as a by-product of this, Hungarian speakers can also enjoy a podcast called Borivok, “wine drinkers”, with guests like István Bencze or Michael Andert. He also took a winemaking course in Budapest, although that didn’t prove to be very useful. “Every time I’d ask about organic agriculture, inspired by my encounters with natural winemakers, the teachers would just claim it doesn’t really work. So I always say that the school basically taught me what I don’t want to do,” he chuckles.
Back in Somló, he also took over the vineyards and started to work organically (2016) and biodynamically (2017). “My neighbors wouldn’t believe me that I spray only with teas or sulfur, or they used to tell me I’m crazy to have cover crop when they first saw it,” Arpád recalls when asked about the local attitude. He explains that due to historical reasons, Somló has a lot of small producers – about 1,000 growers sharing a mere 400 hectares – but most of them work pretty conventionally even at this small scale.
Hungary was indeed a bit slower to adopt natural winemaking ways than its Central-Eastern European neighbors like Austria or the Czech Republic, but things are changing now with more and more young growers like Kolonia 52 or Bencze popping up and getting more popular at home now too. Then there’s the non-deniable empirical evidence: “In one of our vineyards, I have a neighbor who’s not organic, so our deal is that I work the two rows of his that are closest to me [in order to protect my own vines from chemicals]. You have to do something, right? He probably thought I was a lunatic, but in the difficult years that ravaged his yield, he saw that my vines and the two rows I had worked for him were the only ones yielding grapes, so I think his mind is starting to change,” Arpád smiles.
Their own estate is very small as well – about 2.5 hectares, as we speak, with about half a hectare more to be planted with Syrah and Kadarka, two red grapes that Arpád enjoys as a complement to his predominantly white-grape portfolio. “That’s enough for me – a lot of the vineyards are terraced here, so they’re not easy to work, as we can only reach half of our surface by tractor, the rest is all by hand. Our current size is the right fit for our capacities – we can do all the work by ourselves, with one or two seasonal helpers, from pruning to harvesting. Our wines are made by our hands, they reflect our joy, our sorrow, our daily challenges, and this makes our work unique,” Arpád says.
“Also, many of the winemakers I interviewed for my podcast told me ‘oh, I have 10 hectares now but I wish I still had just 3 like before’, so that kind of feels like the ideal size,” he reflects and then grins: “But you know how it is, sometimes you have the possibility to buy good land from your neighbor, and then it’s hard to say no, so… we’ll see. We’ve just bought a hectare with my friend, but that’s not for grapes but rather to start a small mixed farm, with vegetables, trees and some animals.”
Arpád’s main vineyard is conveniently located just below the house where he lives with his family. It’s a mix of 40-year-old vines that the family managed to save and new Furmint bush vines planted by Arpád himself around a tiny cellar built into the middle of the slope – “the smallest cellar in the smallest wine region”, he jokes. Two more sites he works with are a mere 5-minute walk from there. All this allows him to be very nimble and precise in his farming, a huge plus for a natural winemaker. “If something that needs my attention happens during the day, I see it and can act right away, like going and spraying the vines in the evening. If we were a bigger operation, I’d need to plan it a few days ahead, which would be a risk.”
The slope is very windy, so there’s not much disease pressure, but at the same time he works with bush vines, a typical vine management system in the area. “It requires more work, and especially when you have cover crop like we do, you need to be careful about humidity. It also means lower yield, but with higher concentration and energy for the grapes. And grapes closer to the ground mean that you get more microbiologic activity on the skins, and that’s exactly what I want,” Arpád explains.
His tiny cellar keeps rather cold throughout the year, so the natural fermentations are usually quite slow, sometimes taking even more than a year. “I dont think it’s a problem though – the fermentation never really stops, so it simply finishes when nature wakes up again in the spring,” Arpád says, looking very unrushed indeed, as he serves us his skin-contact wine and some home-made charcuterie on his porch overlooking the vineyard. “I really do very little in the cellar,” he laughs, “we just press the wine to barrels, no racking or batonnage, and then basically wait. My Slovenian friend calls this the ‘the lazy winemaker method’. But we do have a lot of work during the harvest, as most of the varieties are picked at three different times to get different levels of acidity and ripeness.”
The wines are very balanced indeed, offering a clear structure, pleasant herbal notes and a refreshing kick. They are sulfur-less but without any weird funk – it seems that Arpád really learned his lessons well, and knows how to live in harmony with his ancient volcanic terroir. A reference to the Somló hill actually graces Tomcsányi’s colorful labels too: “Our friend, a graphic designer, made these together with my wife. It can be interpreted as the view of the hill from above, or a berry when you cut through it, or a fingerprint. I like this, as it symbolizes the three basic levels of winemaking to me: where you work, the plants you work with, and how you shape the wines with your hands…”
Only 550 bottles made.
Grapes: 50% Chardonnay, 50% Gewurztraminer
Vineyard: 40 years old bush vineyard. Basalt soil
Making of: Hand harvest. Each grape is vinified separately – they both spent 2 weeks of maceration in a “sandwich”, layers of whole bunches, whole berries, and crushed grapes. Pressed, spontaneously fermented and aged for 8 months on lees, in two 225L oak barrels that were blended before bottling. No filter, no fining, no SO2 added.
Personality: Traminer aromatics balanced by freshness and silky tannins – a lovely orange wine.
-Jenny & Francois