When I was preparing myself for the press trip to Villány organized as part of Franc & Franc conference, I was expecting lots of good or very good expressions of Cabernet Franc and some classic-style Bordeaux blends – the flagship products of the region which is one of the European bastions of old-style winemaking. But I’ve found there something more.
Big Players vs. Dissidents
I’ll start with already quite old conflict. In one corner there are big, conventional wineries using pesticides, preservatives and lots of sulphur dioxide. In the opposite stay more natural, small wineries. The firsts point out “deadly carbon footprint” or usage of excessive amounts of copper (sic!) in biodynamic vineyards. There’s even some scientific research that proves that conventional winemaking is less toxic for the environment. Really!
Talking about copper, for biodynamic wineries it’s usually 1-3 kilograms per hectare, two times a year. In the same time, industrial-scale wineries use even ten times more. Not to mention the emission of carbon dioxide, usage of chemicals on an industrial scale and destroying biodiversity by building huge monocultures.
But it’s biodynamic and natural winemakers who are the bad guys.
This controversy is present worldwide and Villány is not an exception. Of course, many of conventionally produced wines here are indisputably good, very good or even excellent. But I have to admit that, to me, the mass-market crowd-pleasers and well-polished super-premium products on steroids are the least exciting.
During Franc & Franc, among noble traditional winemakers, I had a pleasure to meet bright and environmentally conscious representatives of a younger generation like Péter Bakonyi or German couple from Wassmann winery.
The Bad Guys from Pécsdevecser
Susann Hanauer and Ralf Wassmann own a teeny-tiny 2-hectares biodynamic winery in Pécsdevecser village, about 15 km north of Villány. Here, clay and loess lay on chalky bed, making this place a home for especially white grape varieties. Still, it’s the warmest area in Hungary with some Mediterranean influence, so red grapes are also doing here very well.
Susann and Ralf established the estate in 1998 with some kind help of local people, just to mention József Bock, a Villány wine mogul and the owner of Bock Pince. A conventional winemaker helped to create a future biodynamic vineyard. How sweet is that?
Wassmann winery seemed to me as a modern and authentic island on the sea of old-style winemakers that still have a very strong position in Villány. My first impression about Wassmann style was: bright, juicy, very fresh, with a dose of elegance and complexity at the same time.
First surprising curiosity was sparkling Portugieser: Morizz Brut Nature Méthode Traditionelle 2016. It spent 25 months, achieving some characteristic notes of earth and forest floor. Tastes deliciously fresh with some hint of umami and cured meat.
Villány Kekfrankos 2015 gives fresh aromas of forest fruits like brambles and – again – forest floor. The wine is energetic and elegant, with fine tannins.
And there is some blink to tradition of making Bordeaux blends. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the nose is rather floral with interesting nuance of smoked meat. Mouthwatering acidity is balanced with silky tannins and the same meaty aftertaste.
Last but not least, their Villány Cabernet Franc 2015 expresses classic and elegant, almost Loire-like style, but with a little bit of southern energy. The wine smelled like a forest full of fresh mushrooms and berries waiting to be collected and massages the tongue with velvety tannins.
Oh, how different these wines are from what most people know from Villány. To me, this is the real expression of pure, healthy fruits without any help of commercial yeasts, sulphites, chemicals and thick oaky makeup.
Sometimes when I speak about my awe of wines from producers like Wassmann, sometimes I see a condescending smile on the faces of my interlocutors. Sometimes such passionate winemakers aren’t treated seriously, as they deserve it. Say what you want, but these people always make the best impression on me. And my biggest respect for their hard work.