Website: Kreinbacher Winery
Country Location: Hungary
„If we respect the special terroir of Somló and the uniqueness of Furmint and if we apply modern approach while following traditional methods in making our sparkling wines, I believe in time the classics of the future may be born in our hands.” — József Kreinbacher
The appellation. Somló is Hungary’s smallest appellation and is the result of the erosion of ancient lava flows. A lone volcanic butte. Now dormant, its slopes of ancient sea sediment, hardened lava, and basalt are home to some of Hungary’s steepest, most densely planted vineyards. Driving up to Somló from Lake Balaton, it’s like seeing an island rise up from the ocean’s horizon. Wines from this special hill were often stocked by Hungarian pharmacists due to their unique flavor and power. A recommended cure for low stomach acid, anemia, liver troubles and high blood pressure. However, and like most of Hungary, its grapes have survived a fair bit of history. From Roman times, rivaling Tokaj in the Royal Courts, surviving hundreds of years of Muslim rule, and the not too long ago collectivization endured during the Communist era. In fact, under Communism Somló was heavily utilized for incredibly cheap and sweet sparkling wines called ‘Somlói Pezsgő.’
Somló is now home to Kreinbacher which is once again making sparkling wine, but diametrically opposed to the aforementioned industrial Pezsgő. This is easily the most meticulous and Champagne inspired producer in Somló. The snowdrop motif on the labels refers to a symbolic native flower that first appears in the basalt rocks after the first snow melt. It’s the official announcement of Spring and a new beginning which is precisely what Kreinbacher is to sparkling wines in this region.
In the vineyard. With a focus on healthy grapes with zero botrytis, Kreinbacher has carefully selected growers on the cooler, windier eastern slopes. They own 41.5 hectares spread across roughly 200 sites plus they buy from another 15 hectares and have been certified organic since 2010. Many of their growers are still getting used to picking relatively early and embracing the otherwise far too intense acidity of Somló without the sugar. Furmint is the most important grape for all of their sparkling wines. The goal is to pick it early enough for the acidity without losing focus on the salty smoke of Somló.
In the cellar. There is massive respect for Champagne that permeates just about everything they do. Christian Forget of Champagne Paul Bara, a top Champenois cellar master, flies in monthly to consult. Together, they follow the traditional method with painstaking attention to detail and patience using Coquard presses from Champagne.
Temperature and humidity control are key and the new modern facility completed in 2014 is the most modern we’ve seen in Hungary. Christian also sees unique potential with Furmint in particular. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of experimentation in addition to the core lineup of sparkling wines. Winemaking can range from spontaneously fermented in barrel to highly reductive with yeasts imported from Champagne. All wines are aged in bottle for 24-36 months, more than twice as long as the minimum legal length required for a quality sparkling wine.