New California and New Tokaj: Furmint and Hárslevelű

In the Spring of 2013 we hosted Judit and József Bodó of Hungary’s Bott Winery in California. With their giant map of the Tokaj appellation, box of soils, and rock samples, I dragged them all over the Bay Area for the usual sales gambit. In addition to all of the tastings, dinners, and semi desperate pleading with many of you for some sit down time, we also took a short trip to California wine country.

The shared experiences and risks of growing grapes and making wine for a living quickly bypass the often stale formalities between strangers. Within minutes Judit and Cathy Corison were digging into gender politics of the wine business and József was on his hands and knees inspecting old vines at the Library Vineyard with Tegan Passalacqua. After their first (ever!) encounter with Mexican food, our final stop was with Steve and Jill Matthiasson.

Judit with Steve Matthiasson
Judit with Steve Matthiasson

As it turns out, Jill has both Hungarian heritage and a penchant for Furmint and Hárslevelű. We tasted through the one another’s lineup, ate oranges off their tree (too cold in Tokaj for citrus), walked through the vineyards, and the Bodós attempted to hide their feverish jealously over the new Matthiasson tractor.

Eating citrus off the vine with Steve Matthiasson
Eating citrus off the vine with Steve Matthiasson

While Jill already wanted to make a California version of these two native Hungarian grapes, I like to think the Bott wines pushed her over the edge. The problem was finding some. As if turns out, there is one acre of Furmint and Hárslevelű on the Limerick Lane property in Sonoma.

Furmint at Limerick Lane
Furmint at Limerick Lane

In Tokaj the Bott’s Csontos and Határi single vineyards run along the Bodrog River. The Limerick Lane site (originally owned by a Hungarian immigrant) is tucked along the Russian River. In Tokaj there is a kaleidoscope of volcanic soils. At Limerick, old clay and rock.

Furmint along the Russian River
Furmint along the Russian River

The differences are of course many, but the approach to farming (dry, SO2 when needed), winemaking (native fermentation), and going for a dry barrel fermented style are shared between the two. In 2014 the Matthiassons made their 1st vintage.

Eric and the first ever Matthiasson Furmint and Hárslevelű
Eric and the first ever Matthiasson Furmint and Hárslevelű

A few vintages ahead (over 500 for the Tokaj AppellationJ), the newly arrived 2013 Csontos Furmint and 2013 Határi Hárslevelű both tame intensely pure acidity with the weight and texture unique to Hungarian volcanic whites. For anyone looking to turn a Chenin or Riesling addict onto something else — these be them. They are delicious.

Heading towards Határi and Csontos vineyards in Tokaj
Heading towards Határi and Csontos vineyards in Tokaj

If you’ve made it this far, new wines and vintages from Gere Attila, Pfneisl (The Austrian side of Pfneiszl), Törley, Juris, Szőke, Bernreiter and Geyerhof have also just arrived. Plenty of wines to take you further down the Blue Danube rabbit hole…

Special thanks to David Messerli and Jake Bilbro of Limerick Lane Winery and of course Steve and Jill Matthiasson. All Limerick Lane photos courtesy of Dennis Bolt

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