There are varying accounts regarding its origins. Based on historical and linguistic evidence, the most common theories claim french, italian or syrmian sources, although its diversity with many subvarieties located on Tokaj-Hegyalja claim the region to be the source. The most recent genetic research claims that its parents are the Gouais blanc and the Alba imputato, the natural cross-breeding of the two being the result of it appearing until the 16th century.
Taxonomy dictates that the grape is a subtype, specifically belonging to the pontian subgroup, of the common grape vine (Vitis vinifera). Along with the currently grown White Furmint, collections preserve the Red and the Variable Furmint types as well. The latter receives its name from the berries’ early green colours changing into red, then shifting into a shade between greenish to golden yellow, not unlike the White Furmint.
Ampelography is the discipline which works with the detailed description of grape types. I won’t delve into the Furmint’s total ampelographical explanations here, but I’ll mention some of the more significant details; first, its upright sprouting system greatly helps regarding the ’green-work’ of the grape, which consists of the shearing and other handiwork up until the harvest arrives. Thanks to the fact that the shoots growing from the buds grow vertically upwards, the foliage are much easier and convenient to maintain, at least compared to other unruly and spreading types (such as Sárgamuskotály). The Furmint’s shoots also fortunately tend to stay nestled inbetween the wiring that keeps the foliage together. Later on, the first tendrils above the clusterzone twist around the wires, ensuring that the shoots are safe from being blown out or simply broken by a stronger wind. The leaves’ edges are serrated yet lacy, its teeth rather pointy, therefore with some experience it may be told apart from the Hárslevelű’s lacy, rather round and dull teeth.
The stamp of the 1972 I. World Wine Competition held in Budapest. A stylized Furmint cluster and leaves hide behind a popular aszú bottle, the background showing Tokaj and its traditionally cultivated vineyards from the other side of the Tisza. The stamp was made by József Vertel, one of the most employed hungarian stamp designers. Note the berries’ differing hues, potentially indicating overtly ripened grapes or even the appearance of aszú.
Regarding its ripening tendencies, it is considered a late type, placing its harvest to the second half of October. In its complete ripeness it appears greenish yellow and, if exposed to the sun, a distinct golden yellow hue. The most important qualities include defined acid and high alcohol contents in the balanced overcropped plantations, but also a high susceptibility to shrinking and therefore ’aszú-ification’. Although the Furmint doesn’t have any characteristic primary aromas (let’s mention the muskotály type as a counter-example and as Irsai Olivér), during the process of fermentation the secondary flavours can include apple, pear, peach, white flowers and other similar evocative qualities. Most Furmint enjoy being fermented in oakwood, which ensures tertiary aromas to enrich its already versatile taste.
Ripened clusters, also beginning to show signs of aszú. Furmint is susceptible to ’scrubbiness’, meaning that if the badly fertilized, small (runt) berries find majority on a cluster, it can significantly decrease the yield of the grapes. The left image, however, shows the positive side of this phenomenon, providing healthier, looser clusters, which are more suitable for creating dry wine. The large, stuffy, blistery berries on the right image (Hólyagos Furmint) are much more susceptible to aszú.
The variety identifying as a "Hungaricum" is located on around 4000 hectares in the country, most of it being in the Tokaj Wine Region itself. The most recent data suggests that out of the 5603 total hectares 3726 (67%) is home to its most significant grape.
It’s also on the list of traditionally grown grapes in many other regions, such as the Somló Region and around Pécs and Balaton, amongst several others. The Sopron Region has contained much of its plantations some time ago but today it has almost completely disappeared from there. Beyond our borders it is widely represented in Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia and Austria.
translated by Áron Várhelyi
The rapidly changing natural and economical environment poses multiple challenges to our current grape-producers and winemakers – global warming and the quarantine caused by Covid-19 and its drastic changes in everyday life represent such challenges. Located in Tarcal, the Tokaj Wine Region’s Research Institute for Viticulture and Oenology handles several grapegrowing region’s research while also exclusively dealing with Tokaj’s wine related topics as well. In the following article, I’ll briefly describe the Institute’s activities and elaborate on more of them in the coming few months.
The Tokaj Wine Region is home to a unique structure of varieties. Out of its six allowed the most dominant is Furmint, which – most likely originating from the region itself – is the most common plantation in Tokaj-Hegyalja. The multifarious Furmint’s „clones” – artifically propagated types – require constant preservation and research; the same can be said about Hárslevelű, a similar ’hungarikum’. Along with other older, hungarian grape varieties, the above two are preserved in a single hectare Variety Collection on the Szarvas-vineyard, located in Tarcal and available to analysation. In order to keep up the spectrum of variety, my colleagues located close to five hundred old, valuable vines across the Tokaj Region. These will eventually be reproduced to grow the collection – after years of research, of course.
Our plant protection expert utilises an automated meteorological station to help warn us against the dangers of insects and infections which could harm our vineyards; along the „traditional” illnesses, including powdery mildew and other types of mildew, each year presents new issues to our grapes, like black rot or even invasive ladybugs. Protection against these is one of our most important tasks. However, our region has a special connection to the so-called gray rot, since in the correct conditions, this fungus, called Botrytis cinerea can produce noble rot – which means the appearance of precious aszú.
The production of healthy and delicious grapes begins from the ground up and the original roots of our desired species – the subject – are also highly important. In order to protect against phylloxera, our European species are planted onto North-American species, which are located just below the ground under the vines. Certain rootstocks ensure protection against dryness, while others can speed up or slow down the process of ripening. Choosing the ideal rootstock variety is as important as the soil’s nutrient contents, the well-being of the soil-microbes’ community and preserving the structure of the ground, which is tended to by our colleague expertising in soil science and nutrient management.
We’re currently making our first moves in two vital areas: the highly resistant grapetypes’ newest generation is appearing today in several vineyards. In about 20-30 years, they will become a topic of much discussion and study regarding the evaluation of them as „Tokaji” wine and cross-breeding them with other types and species. Geographic information systems and automatisation represent the precision-based area of the winemaking field, although these systems are still not as widespread as the large-scale production of plants. Despite this, the sight of drones and harvesting machines might be an everyday sight in Tokaj’s future vineyards.
Our new microbiology and wine lab serves the Tokaj Region’s winemakers with high quality instruments and tools, since every step in the process of winemaking requires the appropriate analytical studies, which are required high quality production. These studies include the research of different strains of yeast found in Tokaj’s cellars, the different treatments’ effects on the nature of wines and older grapes’ microvinification; growing these in extremely small amounts. Ecological grapegrowing and organic winemaking – producing organic grapes and wine – requires the thorough and precise study of all of the above fields and demands a sort of „system theory” from the winemaker. We consider not only the gathering of information on these topics to be important, but also passing them down to the next generation and providing them with experience and knowledge of the past.
translated by Áron Várhelyi