What will this year’s yield look like? I often receive the question at the start of January already, and as I diplomatically like to answer it: we’ll see after we’ve picked it. Keep reading our harvest report – constantly being updated with the most recent news!
Regarding this year, we’ve finished shaping the vineyard towards the end of March, which was definitely a colder month this time compared to February. Later down the line, the coolness of spring brought a bit of delay to the plantation. The hot and dry summer allowed the grape to catch up to itself. The ripening actually increased to such a speed that it yielded one of the earliest harvests of all time. The draught proved to be a significant problem especially on the southern sunburnt sides of the grape field, where the lack of water weakened the vines. This resulted in a really tiny berry size, which usually in conclusion reduces the overall grape juice amount.
The unusual desert-like conditions didn’t hit us that hard as some others though. Here are the 3 main reasons why:
Since our dry wine storages have been hit significantly, we’ve made an important goal to at least create one smaller stock from each grape type in a dry or semi-dry variant.
The collection of the Zéta grape was unfortunately postponed due to a sudden Sunday night rainfall. By the time Tuesday came around, we were scuttling around the vineyard at full force.Thanks to the previous measurings we’ve done, it was clear that this grape variety would be the most ripe (21 must degrees - 230 g/l sugar), so we decided – naturally – to start with it. Healthy base material (read: no botrytis presence) is vital for creating good dry wines. I tend to make this clear every day for our fellow grape collectors; as I give out the „order” not to pick an entire row (it’s not important that a row is cleared of grapes) but rather to collect the necessary ingredients for the intended wine. This means that we collect the first grapes from the end of each row, since these are the most sun-exposed, healthiest of berries – all thanks to the location of the nearby crossroads.
Roughly 130-140 crates (around 2200 kgs) were filled every day. On one hand, this is the optimal amount of grapes to transport into the press, on the other, it’s completely enough to make one or two dry wines. The above amount is conveniently and comfortably harvested by 6 people, along with an additional 2 people ensuring the crates safely make it onto the vehicles. Finally, Laci gives a ride to all those crates all the way to Hétszőlő Winery, where the harvest is booming too, although they always make sure to press our grapes in time as well.
Unfortunately on Wednesday, it turned out that we can’t quite get enough manpower to continue the harvest. Following a quickly made decision, we’ve stepped inbetween the rows of the Sárgamuskotály area, which is notoriously way more difficult to collect, as it lays on a steep hill with terrible footing. We ended the day with 140 crates of golden-brown ripened 20,5 must degree (224 g/l sugar) grapes.
On Thursday, the number of able-bodied harvesters reduced to 5, although the 20 must degree (218g/l sugar) Kövérszőlő clusters – thanks to their large sizes – were making their way into those crates expertly. With an hour of extra work, we’ve managed to hit our quota on this day as well.
During all this, all the grape juice (must) had to be transported to Hétszőlő without delay. First, the liquid is pumped into a storage tank. After around 2 days of letting it sit there, the clear and transparent liquids were set into their place, where they will ferment into wine in the next 3-4 weeks. The Zéta and Kövérszőlő will do so in barrels, while the Sárgamuskotály does the same in steel tanks.
Furmint ripens a bit later than the previous 3 types. Therefore, we’re now in a 2-3 week long break, after which we will continue the harvest with the furmint once more, at full power. We’re also waiting and hoping for a decent September weather, so that the remaining fruit’s sugar level will prove to be concentrated enough for the making of some sweet wines as well.
The current grape juices are slowly beginning to ferment. The grape itself is resting. On the 7th, I had the chance to finally get my nasal surgery done. After my rousing, on 8th-9th, a great amount of rain had fallen.
The weather has turned cooler and rainy, which aren’t exactly the ideal conditions for the further ripening of the grapes. Instead of the hours-long, constantly rainy periods we’d have preferred the quicker, more intense rainfalls. After these sudden precipitations, the sun would then usually dry the plantations and the clusters quite fast. But for now, it’s not the latter sort of ideal weather up in the hills…
We’re continuing to survey the land, taking measurements and observing. The 3 early types unfortunately haven’t made that much progress. We’re in desperate need for those sunny, windy days. The Furmint and the Hárslevelű, however – as we expected –, are soon to be ready to be harvested for the base of some dry wines. The decision is thus made, the collection begins again next week.
September 25-October 2
Our plan was ultimately foiled by the weather that appeared at the end of the previous month, forcing us to temporarily pause the harvest. This turned out be the best decision, since it continuously rained for days on end, even throughout the weekend and the Harvest Festival. Despite the suboptimal weather conditions, a lot of people visited the town – we had a lot of things to do, as over 400 guests have been served over the weekend!
After the weekend craze had finally calmed down, we decided to take a few moments for ourselves in order to recuperate and rest for the remaining work. Thus continuing the harvest on Tuesday morning, we separated some of the base material grapes for a dry Furmint wine. The sugar level hasn’t increased all that much in the span of a month or so, but it increased enough for a perfectly neat base wine. Wednesday went similarly – we’ve picked some Furmint along with Hárslevelű, both of which we want to create a dry cuveé from. On Thursday, we collected the rest of the golden yellow Sárgamuskotály, which also proves ideal for a slightly sweet swine. However, we’re not sure if we want to use it on its own or combine it with something else for another cuveé. These kinds of questions usually become answered once the harvest finally ends, and the fermentation process also begins to near its final moments. Looking towards next week, we have 3 very similar days coming up: we’ll be starting with the incredibly botrytised Zéta grape, following with Kövérszőlő and finishing up with the rest of the Furmint, therefore closing the lid on the grapes this year. What we very much want right now is a series of dry, warm and windy days to suck the moisture out of the rest of the grapes and concentrate their sugar amounts a tiny bit.
Such a rainy and cold September can be in and of itself quite saddening to anyone really. To a winemaker in Tokaj, it can turn their life to total despair and depression. In the last week of the month, we didn’t even want to drive up and check the vineyard since it looked impossible to continue the harvest in any way. We thought that the grapes we had left out would go to ruin.
Then on October 3rd along with the sunshine, the rising of heat and the lukewarm wind – indian summer had arrived. The perfectly ideal weather for the botrytis affected grapes to be able to finish their process of sugar and aroma concentration, also known as aszúfying.
On 11th and 12th we picked the Zéta in its entirety. It’s very important to be careful when picking this type, as it is much more vulnerable to other fungal infections than its grape siblings. We make sure not to collect these infected grapes into the same crates, but rather leave them on the vines to then destroy them during our spring shaping sessions. Fortunately, these fungi only appeared in a few spots on the lower levels of the plantation where the wet soil can just slowly dry itself, creating a more than ideal environment for these infections.
The collected berries were almost 100% aszú affected. After the prepping processes, they were pressed a day later in the morning. The end result is a truly fantastic 6 puttony aszú’s sweetness worth of grape juice. This is equivalent to 36,5 Brix, translating into 360 g/l sugar levels.
The last day had come and the harvesters stood inbetween the rows of Kövérszőlő. This grape awaited us in a similar condition as the previous Zéta, although we had less separation work to do here, meaning an overall faster and easier job.
A similar process yielded very similar results to the Zéta once again: we measured 34,1 Brix, which is a high 340 g/l sugar amount.
The closing few days were actually recorded by a professional German filming team. We believe the small film will show up somewhere on the internet soon enough, creating and saving a tangible memory of the Tokaj wine region’s eccentric winemaking procedures.
We always approach the harvest with optimistic plans, ideas and goals, although the whims of an always unpredictable weather forces us to make difficult, quick decisions and sometimes make crazy improvisations. This year was exceptionally interesting, full of variety and of course very exciting for us. We hope our wines turn out to be similar in quality.
This year’s harvest’s participants:
Cserés László és Gábor - logistics
Cserésné Ildi / Muszka Zsuzsanna / Drozda János / Kundráth István / Balogh Tünde / Bakos Tünde / Horváth Barbara / Tímár Marika / Pappné Jutka / Csikai Andrea / Csikainé Andrea / Balogh Piroska - harvesters
Translated by Mara Várhelyi