After a long chain of embarrassing late arrivals to appointments with producers and an exasperating hike up a steep snowy hillside vineyard during our visit to Tokaj this past February, my team of adventuresome Danubians – Michael Newsome (Sales LA), Henry Beylin (Gjelina – Venice Beach, CA), Matt Stinton (Terroir/Hearth – NYC, NY) and 2 of Tokaj’s most iconic producers shared a special moment together in the vineyard of Hatari. Had we been on time for our appointments, it would not have been so special.
Just before, we were among Judit Bodo‘s vines in Csontos. The full moon began to rise and we left for wild pheasant soup at her house, or so I thought. But then she pulled off the bumpy road for one even rougher and icier, and rumbled us towards a man standing by a van in a giant furry Russian snow hat—which I discovered is called “ushanka”. Although it was already dark, the hat made the outline unmistakably Samuel Tinon.
We were supposed to visit his vineyard earlier, but since things had gotten so late and Judit and he had been in contact, I assumed she had canceled the meeting for us. Not the case. Samuel filled up a thermos with hot coffee for the night chill and insisted we should still meet. So there we were, winded and cold at the top of Hatari with Judit and Samuel, both of whom farm the historic vineyard.
The moonlit vineyard was silent and beautiful. We could see the Bodrog river in the distance surrounded by snow covered fields. Samuel pulled out a handful of teaspoons and a tiny bottle unlike any wine bottle I had ever seen and said, “would anyone like some Eszencia?” Any regret towards this trek evaporated. We all huddled around together and Samuel carefully poured a golden liquid into our shivering spoons, which would not have been possible if the Eszencia was not so thick. The wine moved, literally, like honey. A few drops spilled on the snow and we all cried, and laughed. There was more flavor in one single spoon than 1000 bottles of great wine. It was magic.
We all buzzed for a few seconds, quieted by what we had shared and then walked further towards the top of the hill. Samuel explained that that part of the vineyard needed to be replanted but he was planning to do it in the “old manner”. This means much more work and some people think it’s just about crazy, but Samuel believes that it is his responsibility to maintain the traditions specific to the vineyards he tends. This is information distilled from centuries of human experience and no matter how attractive the alternatives might be, he must. Otherwise, who will?
After we finished our coffee and began our cold but happy descent back to the cars, Samuel stopped us and said: “I have an idea. Select a vine and every so often, I will take a picture of it and send it to you by email.” He pointed us to an area particularly suited for botrytis and we marked a few vines. As Samuel sends new shots they will be added to this post.
By understanding and enjoying wines of tradition like those of Samuel and Judit, we are helping to preserve them while enriching our own lives and giving purpose to the lives of the winemakers. Considering the low yields of these vineyards, purchasing one or two bottles of these wines amounts to adopting a vine and playing a role in the preservation of Tokaj traditions.
Follow the life of the vine in our post A year in the life of a Tokaji vine.