Website: Spiegelberg Winery
Country Location: Hungary
Istvan Spiegelberg farms just 3 hectares of vines, mostly by himself, and employs minimal intervention in the winery, crafting wines at his image: unconventional and stylish.
The people. In a past life, German/Hungarian István Spiegelberg was a DJ and test driver for BMW. In 2007, István left Germany and traded in everything for a small home and 2 hectares of vines without running water or electricity in Hungary’s Somló appellation. Despite all of these changes, he can still be found regularly updating his Facebook page. This balance between old and new permeates everything he does.
His house is packed full of antiques perched carefully on a giant tiled wall stove and yet an iPhone dock is among them. His wines follow suite in that they maintain a fidelity to Somló but his late picks and long fermentations yield something new to Hungary’s smallest appellation. The cellars and production are also the smallest in Hungary and vineyards are worked exclusively by hand.
Somló’s exclusively white wines are typically made from Hárslevelű, Furmint, Olaszrizling, or the local rarity Juhfark (Sheep’s Tail). When we asked István if likes to drink red wine, he simply replied that he also drinks coffee. This is also the only dedicated appellation whose white wines more than hold their own against the better-known whites of Tokaj. Volcanic soil permeates every sip and Spiegelberg and nearby neighbor Fekete Béla are among the most distinctive we’ve ever tasted. Aromas lean towards honeyed fruits, dried herbs and rare spices. The weight is generally heady, dense, gripping, and there’s an immediate sense of smoky minerality and brininess. These are wines that are both unforgettable and incredibly rare treats.
In the vineyards. Millions of years ago, Somló was an underwater volcano not more than 1300 feet high. Now dormant, its southerly slopes of ancient sea sediment and basalt are home to some of Hungary’s steepest, most densely planted vineyards. Minutely divided, these rarely trellised parcels of vines are workable only by hand. István farms roughly 2 hectares and does the majority of the harvesting as well. Botrytis can be a factor and getting grapes ripe and healthy before it sets is key. Given the proximity of his home and cellar to the vineyards, he’s mostly likely to found among the vines rather than anyplace else.
In the cellar. Grapes are hand harvested and sorted before being pressed into 500L Hungarian Oak barrels. The winery is very cool come harvest time so fermentations can take months and in some cases up to a year. All wines are left to ferment with their native yeasts and nothing is added. In certain years, small amounts of un-fermenting wine will be pulled and taken to the house to heat up, get fermentation going, and then be used as a kickstarter for other lots. Wines will continue to age in barrel for 12-16 months to the sounds of Gregorian chamber music.