History of Wine

The History of Wine in Hungary

Hungary is situated in Europe’s wine productions North-East corner.  The country, for its size, has an exclusive variety of wines to be proud of.  At the end of the last century, after the first authorized statistics on the EU wine producing countries, our country was – after France – Europe’s second largest wine producer.  The area produces Mediterranian style Villányi, fresh, fruity styled from the Balaton’s regions, North – Transdanubian full bodied, acidy from Hungary’s Northeast, from Sopron, Somlói with its unique taste and last but not least the world-famous Tokaj Aszú wines.

The great potentials of the land were discovered as early as 276AD by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus who made his soldiers plant vineyards in Szerémség and in Transdanubia.  The Hungarian conquesters ’discovering’ the Tokaj region met the floodplain’s resultants of wild grapes for the first time.  In the forming of the Hungarian wine culture in the 12th and 13th century mainly the Walloon, Italian and German settlers played the main part.  In the 15th century, the South Slavs from the Balkan Peninsula, moving north towards Hungary’s South and Central regions, became the mediators of an until unknown grape called Kadarka, used in red wine producing. 

The beginning of the 16th century saw wine production greatly expanding in all of Europe, hence in Hungary.  During the Turkish occupation wine trade was not forbidden by any regulations, and it was allowed for the Christian inhabitants in the occupied territory to trade, as it was also a major source of income through the toll.

After the expulsion of the Turkish, as a result of continuous planting and growing grape vines, by 1873, Hungary’s vineyards covered over 385 thousand hectares of land. About two third of this vines fell victims of the phylloxera epidemic which swept through shortly after, as well as other grape diseases during the same time.  From 1891, for 15 years, the reconstruction of mountain vineyards went well, and the resistance breeding of grapes began with plantations immune to sandy soils.  Hungary stepped in the 20th century with an entirely new grape culture and wine making.  Our country’s vineyards by then exceeded 320 thousand hectares.  The revival brought a significant quality and structural transformation with it, that with its radical shift showed in the spread of new cultivation tools and techniques.


The wine cellar is the cradle of wine

In almost all our wine regions the huts and shacks were made out of reed or cane sheaf in a shape of a circle or rectangle.  Later on stronger structures arrived, buildings where the grape farmers slept during demanding work periods.  Those other holders who were living outside during the grape planting periods stayed in the mountains, and the large landowners would construct permanent buildings.  For their annual grape cultivation during the last century, the genteel and bourgeois landowners employed a vine-dresser, who with his family moved to the pipeclay house on the land, to live in it all through the year.  The vineyards’ landowners also built tithe barns and tithe cellars.  The shepherds who were employed for the whole year lived in pipeclay houses or shepherd houses.  There were only a few common wells on the mountains with vineyards.  From the turn of the 19th century to the 20th, when the spraying of grapes became more generic within the peasants, there was a giant leap in the constructions of buildings.

In our wine regions, the harvesting, the aging and the storage of the wine took place in the mountains, on each individual’s vineyard or near it, in their wine cellars that were either forming groups or a street line.  Villány, Hajós etc orderly rows of their cellars are beautiful examples of the German inhabitants’ influence.  Where red wines were produced, they also prepared a room where people could rest, as the fermentation method with the grape skins required more work and concentration.  The wine makers produced their wines in the free royal towns and in some of our boroughs, the storage was done in the residential houses ‘press rooms’ and wine cellars, while in the Great Hungarian Plain there were pantries built to store the wine. Coal holes without ‘press rooms’ were only common in Hungary’s Northeast.