On January 22nd 2024, the founder of our winery, Gyula Várhelyi was pronounced Honorary Citizen of Tokaj. We honor him and his eventful journey through life with this small retrospect, one that intertwines family, Tokaj grapes, wine, culture and community.
Years in Tiszalúc
Our father, Gyula Várhelyi was born on June 3rd, 1942 about 40km away from Tokaj, in a small town called Tiszalúc located on the bank of the Holt-Tisza. He spent his childhood and finished elementary school here. At this point he could only gaze at the far-off mountain lines of Tokaj with admiration. He probably didn’t know that he would end up spending most of his life at the foot of these mountains later on, working on his own winery and tending his own vineyards.
He graduated at Földes Ferenc High School in Miskolc, then continued his education at Bishop’s Theology College in Eger, later on the Kölcsey Ferenc Teaching School in Debrecen and Bessenyei György Teaching School in Nyíregyháza. As an adult he graduated to be a folk cultivator and a librarian.
The Taktaharkány Years
In 1968 he married Margit Juhász, with whom they created a family in her town, Taktaharkány. In 1969 their son Péter was born and 5 years later their daughter, Kata. In these few years, as a group effort and in joined work with their in-laws and friends, they had constructed the first two-story semi-detached house in the village.
In the meantime, he worked in the city library of Szerencs, and then the bookstore in the same town, with one foot in the wine region already. His colleagues at the time piqued his interests towards winemaking and viticulture.
The first visible result of this interest was the purchase of their very first vineyard in Monok, 1978. They would travel there with the kids every weekend by bus or train to get more acquainted with the art of viticulture.
The Tokaj Years
In 1980, Gyula Várhelyi became the manager of the House of Culture in Tokaj.
After this short period of bouncing between jobs and places, being a bit tired, he reevaluated the wine idea. Unafraid of change, they left the barely lived-in family home and the vineyard in Monok, and left for the town of Tokaj.
In 1983, using the money they received from the sale of the house in Taktaharkány, they purchased an extremely ruined and desolate piece of real estate on Bem street, which was described to be the former hunting house of a certain János Szapolyai – a former Hungarian ruler. This small estate is now known as Hímesudvar by lovers of wine world-wide. With friends and family, next to a full-time job, they tried to renovate the building and make it at least livable – which they did, and moved in soon after. In order for them to spend their non-existent free time a bit better, they decided to purchase a plot of land – about a quarter hectar – on a hill above the high school, on an area called Donáth-vineyard. This was how they succeeded at the first law of Tokaj: „If in Tokaj your home be, an owner of grapes must you be.”
In 1988 came another workplace change. Szerencs had charmed him back, where they appointed him Executive Manager of the nationally acclaimed and relevant Szerencs Cultural Centre and Library, built upon the remains of the newly renovated Rákóczi Castle.
In the meantime, he created another similarly sized plot of land in the Nyulas-dűlő (literally: Bunny-vineyard), then traded one of his local friends for yet another small area in the Malomfeli vineyard, fully forming the entire 3.5 hectar land that we as a family call our own.
In 1991, after constant rethinking and reconsideration and due to the duties of his workplace, he slowly taught the winemaking arts and techniques to his son, Péter, moving the more challenging aspects of the winery to him. Kata joined in later, and the two of them took control of the small estate.
Up until 2002, he was known as the „castle captain” as his colleagues called his occupation. At this point he retired but continued to live a very active life.
Cultural and Community Life
Because of his religious creed, he had always believed that building and forming the community around him was vital to life. Along with his colleagues, they would create all sorts of study groups, host exhibits and language events, or even organise outdoor games and activities. He played an important role in the creation of schedules for the Tokaj Summer Culture Site, contributing to the bustling cultural life of the city by coming up with creative, exciting events.
He was a founding member of the Circle of Museum Enthusiasts, the Tokaj Eszencia Friend Community and the Tokaj Value Repository Board. For decades he took part in the works of the Bettering the City Organisation.
In the year of the millennium, he received the most important award in his area of work from the minister of the National Cultural Heritage; the Folk Cultivation Award.
Days in the Now
„Gyula bácsi” is still an active and contributing citizen of Tokaj’s community and its cultural life. For the 950-year celebration of the city, he worked on the creation of the event schedule and was a presenting member of the informative conference held about remembering Tokaj.
He has a great interest in the old history of Tokaj, and in its religious past, working as a sort of local history researcher and a public writer. His writings are usually published in the rows of the Tokaj News, the Honismeret national paper and the Kazincy Ferenc Society’s yearbooks.
Above all this, he still has time to contribute to the family business, constantly and tirelessly working to make Hímesudvar neater and nicer, along with helping the younger people of the family to thrive.
The Honorary Citizen award isn’t given to those who succeed in a private business, but rather to one who has given much of his life to the bettering of his community and city. A long career of cultural work isn’t simply enough as well, one has to have a tireless and selfless attitude to cultural and community work. Gyula Várhelyi gave all this and more. At his workplaces, his colleagues loved working with him and his superiors praised his work and were proud to have him there. In his retirement days he still dedicates a lot of time to the interested and colourfully accepting communities of today. Dreaming up Hímesudvar, he created the foundations of an exceptional piece of Tokaj value, which proves as a reference point and shows the way to many adventurous wine-lovers and local citizens alike.
We wish him a long life!
Translated by Mara Várhelyi