Furmint without borders – Interview with Holdvölgy’s chief winemaker Tamás Gincsai
February, the month of Furmint is just over, and now we would like to share it with you!
That is why we have asked the most authentic person we could about the variety, winemaking and Pre-Culture program.
Tamás, what do you think about Furmint as a grape variety?
Basically I consider Furmint to be a very ”cubic” variety -while Hárslevelű can be lovely on its own, and Sárgamuskotály (aka yellow muscat) can be immersive itself – Furmint is much more terroir driven and intemperate than our other grape varieties. With a very illustrative example, we need a lot more hard work to form a statue from marble.
The Holdvölgy estate has grown to 27 hectares from a first parcel of a birthday present, most of which is home to Furmint still today. For the first eight years, constantly new parcels had been bought. This versatility allowed us to experiment our parcels, clones that today allow us to create wines that can proudly stand on any of the world’s restaurant tables.
This was a much more conscious work – let’s say research – than is generally the case, not only in Tokaj but also in other wine regions. I’m lucky to be working at a winery that takes the time to always develop and get better.
You think about the 6 allowed grape varieties in Tokaj region very innovatively. How do you break new grounds with the dry wines you make?
The diversity of the wine region lies in the fact that each vineyard has different characteristics. Our estate’s structure is rather divided, we manage 23 different plots, so it was very exciting for us to see in which parcel, which clone will prevail.
For example we have been looking for several years for a dry blend to become the base wine of Holdvölgy. Once found it was named Vision, and turned out to be a Furmint based wine – complemented with Hárslevelű and Kabar to achieve the most unique flavour. Sometimes I funnily call Vision my third child.
Generally the Holdvölgy vineyard (the winery’s naming vineyard) provides us with the most Furmint material. In one if its parcels the Furmint clone of T8/7575 shows the variety’s very best. Our Intuition No.3. is that exact parcel’s and clone’s selection dedicated to show what the fruit is capable of. It is our purest Furmint dry wine in our range.
We should not miss to mention the Király vineyard that was classified as a premier cru back in 1738. Our dry Furmint-selection called Meditation comes from this vineyard – I truly believe this wine is the perfect marriage of terroir and the grape variety.
Single-variety wines or blends are closer to your heart?
Blends might be a bit closer to my heart. I find it incredibly exciting that for example Vision is made in every year since we found its style, however the raw material is different in every vintage – I still pursue to keep it as we like it, or even make it better year by year. It is a serious professional challenge to prove the uniqueness of the historical vineyards of Mád even in the most extreme vintages. In contrast our Furmint varietal selections are made only in the finest vintages.
Over the last 20 years, we have come a long way in getting to know Furmint and Vision’s international gold awards show it best that we are now at the forefront of the world’s dry wines year by year.
And most importantly we must not forget that our wine region has been elevated to great heights by the noble sweet wines! Making them is a worthy continuation of a centuries-old mission even today.
I agree sweet wines are what made Tokaj famous – we can never say it enough. Can Furmint as a sweet wine be equally diverse?
Regarding sweet wines we try to work with the variety in its full verticality.
Furmint is the spine of our sweet szamorodni Eloquence, keeping the wine balanced with dynamic acids that hold this noble wine together for several decades just like in case of an aszú.
The main variety of Signature, our sweet estate selection is also Furmint – this wine we commonly refer to as Holdvölgy’s liquid signature. The owner has one single request to me every year: to strive for the best sweet wine of the vintage with this wine. To accomplish this, technological freedom is given. I can blend what I think will make it perfect: varietal szamorodni, 6 puttonyos aszú and even essencia. It is a really exciting process of wine making.
And last but not least we use Furmint as a base for our aszú wines, too!
Talking about aszú, your concept of aging is a bit different than in most of the region…
In my opinion we can be stricter than the region’s rules if it leads to a better wine. I would like to bring out the maximum of aszú wines in each vintage. A Holdvölgy aszú cannot be out on the market before minimum 8 years of aging – 2 years in barrel and the rest 5-6 years in bottle. This is how we make our aszú stand out within our portfolio.
Our estate does not buy grapes, and all our aszú wines follow the same winemaking process – the base wine is from Furmint of the Becsek vineyard, and only noble rot berries of the following 3 varieties are used: Furmint, Hárslevelű and Zéta. We only work with first-class botrytised berries, not any second or third class berries are collected. The goal is to achieve the highest quality possible.
What is so special about Becsek-vineyard?
We are talking about an area already classified in 1738, which has been producing high quality grapes on its 40-year-old wines with balanced and permanent yields. It is my own belief that the base wine for an aszú – that is the most prestigious product in the Tokaj region – should also be an ultra-premium wine. Furthermore the salty-peppery minerals of the Becsek vineyard provides excellent base for soaking first-class aszú berries.
In 2019, the winery came out with a breakthrough aszú pre-order program called PreCulture. What is your professional opinion about it?
We have managed to implement a revolutionary idea from the pre-order point of view.
Professionally, I truly believe that aszú, this unique miracle of nature should be connected in people’s minds with festive moments. A common problem is that a well-made 6 puttonyos aszú, like I said before, does not show its best face before 8 years of aging, this way it is almost impossible to give as a gift for the big moments of life (marriage, birth of a child, company formation). One of the “viable” ways to overcome this gesture would be to put these wines on the market before ideal time, but I think it’s worth avoiding.
The pre-order program, allows aszú wines to be bought already in the year of its harvest, without requiring the physical handing over. It is intended to solve a hundreds of years old problem of sales.
Also we provide more than just pre-order of the wines. Every year an update is sent to our PreCulture customers about how the wine is evolving in our cellar. The fact that the wines leave the estate in perfect shape compensates us for the extra work.
Tamás, which wine would you personally recommend on the occasion of Furmint February to try for winelovers who haven’t tasted Holdvölgy wines yet?
I can’t pick just one. Of course, I could say that my “third” child – you know, Vision – is definitely the one I recommend to try.
I think each Holdvölgy wine – be it varietal, clone, vineyard selection- has a dominant and distinct style. Winemaking is a great challenge for me without borders, and I love all the wines I’ve created with my team.