A scientific approach that's beating the world
Wednesday 05 January 2022
This article is from
Share this article
Wunderlich is one of a group of five brands owned by the Jammertal Wine Estate (JWE), and takes its rather splendid name from Mr Alajos Wunderlich, the winery’s first winemaker, who retired in 2010. It was established in 2001 by Ms.Varjas, Sarolta Judit and Róbert Szűcs, as a family enterprise.
The Jammertal Wine Estate itself is located in Villány, in the south of the country, occupying 85 hectares on the slopes of Jammertal (which translates as ‘the Valley of Cries’, in reference to a battle between Austro-Hungarian and Osman troops back in 1687). Villány is a small village of around 3000 inhabitants, just 5km from the Croatian border. Winemaking has been an important part of the local economy for millennia, as evidenced by ancient Roman mosaics depicting a harvest, excavated just a few kilometres from JWE’s winery.
This stands to reason. Protected from cold north winds by two chains of small hills, the valley offers loess/clay/brown forest soil on limestone and a sub–Mediterranean microclimate, creating a perfect environment for the grapes that are JWE’s speciality. The hills are not high - the altitude only varies by around 180 metres - though the area is sometimes prone to spring frosts, where a difference in elevation of 10 metres can make a difference.
Co-founder Róbert Szűcs says: “I recognised the potential of the Villány wine region from the beginning. I deeply believed in the strength of its terroir, so we built two adjoining world-class state-of-art wineries in 2004 and 2011. We completed our project with a remarkable visitor centre in 2006 which, among other things, hosts a 90,000 bottle strong publicly available wine safe.”
Bordeaux varieties – Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon – account for 90% of Jammertal’s production. The remaining 10% is made up of local varieties – Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt, Blue Portugieser – and used for rosé production. There is also some Pinot Noir, which is also mainly used in rosé wine, though in selected vintages goes into producing small quantities of excellent Mediterranean-style Pinot Noir.
While he clearly has deep respect for the land, Robert does not see JWE as a distinctively Hungarian or Villány winemaker. He and his wife worked in the high-tech medical industry for 30 years, which has led them to a scientific and evidence-based approach to creating premium red wines.
“We appreciate and praise the terroir – which is everything – but otherwise we do not mix with local winemaking traditions,” he says. “We do everything in our own way. We all have quite extensive international experiences and have always wanted to become leaders, not followers in the wine business. It makes us proud that our numerous big reds always receive attention if compared against their better-known – and quite often much more expensive – peers in any corners of the globe.”
JWE’s efforts have been acknowledged with countless Gold, Double Gold, Diamond and Best of Show awards at leading French, Spanish, German, Austrian and Belgian wine competitions. Perhaps its greatest accolade came at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2021, where its Cassiopeia Merlot 2015 received the Grand Gold Medal Revelation Red Wine, after scoring highest among more than 10,000 samples in a nine-day blind tasting.
“This achievement confirmed my original thoughts that Villány belongs to the top red wine regions around the world,” says Robert. “You can only make a world’s best red wine from world’s best grapes. The fact that out of 672 French, 507 Spanish, 389 Italian and 335 Portuguese medals, the highest score went to a Villány Red proves the quality of our terroir.”
“The real difference is the risk-taking attitude of us, the owners. In order to get a great harvest, we take the risk of leaving the grapes 10- 15 days longer to achieve full maturity. Thereby we accept the tremendous risks of potential rainy or foggy events which could destroy a year’s work within days. But when you taste the wine, you will agree the benefits are more than worth the risk.”
The problem with Hungarian reds – Jammertal Wine Estate co-founder, Róbert Szűcs
“The situation for white wines is different in Hungary, especially in Tokaj, where a great deal of international investors have a much more professional approach. In general though, there are very few areas in Hungary producing premium red wines.
“In the best regions, (Villány, Szekszárd, Eger) the majority of vineyards went into hands of local laymen at the time of Post- Communist privatisation in the early 1990s. Nice pieces of fine land were available at a very small expense, for local people with some knowledge. Those people were not professional winemakers, although most of them had some practical experience in home-made wines.
“Due to the simple fact that those people took much better care of vineyards (the most important factor in winemaking) they started to produce better wines than those produced in the Communist industrial way previously. They started to gather attention from Budapest gastronomy and became opinion leaders on the (undereducated) Hungarian wine market. Then a lot of EU funding became available from 2007 and big, well-equipped wineries grew everywhere. The problem is that most of those owners insisted on making the wines themselves.
“To this day, there are only a handful of red-producing wineries in Hungary employing full-time professional winemakers. Worse than that, those owners either refused – because of pride – or did not care to taste great red from all around the world. They mostly do not speak any other languages, so no visit to well-known foreign wineries would give them any significant information. My opinion is that the red wine industry is in the hands of self-righteous old men and the next generation looks the same. That is why we do not identify ourselves among Hungarian winemakers.
“If you want to produce something extraordinary, you need to taste thousands of different wines, learn how to taste, look for faults, visit as many wineries around the world as you can and talk a lot with fellow professionals. It is not nuclear science, but this profession also has its rules and protocols. If you ignore them, you will not make above average wine. As I put it: Jammertal Wine Estate proved to the world the excellent terroir of Villány; wineries only have to develop their skills.”
Share this article