The Bock winery from Villany in Hungary has many stories to tell, none more so than how, like so many Hungarian hard-working families, it has prospered in the wake of the Communist regime. It all started when the Bock family, with only half a hectare of vines, was able to kickstart and restore viticulture to the Villany region. Today the Bock winery has expanded to 80 hectares and its wines are known across the country. Its next challenge is to build its profile and reputation overseas at trade and consumer tastings and hopefully on restaurant wine lists.
The Bock winery means a lot to the producers of Hungary as it was one of the first to really make a claim for the quality and diversity of wines being made in the country. It has also shown how Cabernet Franc, so synonymous with classic regions of France, has also found a new home in the vineyards of Villany.
Tell us the background and some of the history of the winery?
The Bock family’s presence in Villany goes back to the 18th century and we have owned our own site in the Jammertal vineyard since 1850. The area was state confiscated, but my father was able to buy half a hectare in 1958, which means we have had a continuous presence going all the way back to that time. The Jammertal vineyard dates back to the Turkish Empire around 1687. It’s one of Villany’s oldest south facing slopes and its sub-Mediterranean climate and limestone and clay soils provide a uniquely outstanding environment to produce good quality fruit.
I took over from my father when he died and started to make what became the first independently bottled Villány wines in the region. We now have our own 80 hectares and work with growers covering another 80. Our winery remains very much a family enterprise, and all family members are involved one way or another. My son, Valer is a winemaker, and I involve him with marketing decisions. My daughter, Patricia is the office manager and many other relatives work here. As the winery has grown in size so has the number of people working for us. For example, in 2004 we had 50 hectares and 25 people, today we work with 160 hectares and around a 100 people.
What is your average annual production and what grapes do you grow?
Our average production is 1,200,000 bottles per year. We grow: Olaszrizling, Hárslevelű, Chardonnay, Portugieser, Kékfrankos, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Kadarka and Syrah.
What kinds of wines do you want to make?
We like full bodied wines and barrique ageing, of course, taking consumer feedback into consideration, which also points towards easier to understand, easy drinking, fruitier styles.
What does the 2018 vintage look like?
It looks like we will have great wines from this vintage as the weather has provided perfect conditions to be able to bring out the most of our wines and the style we aim for.
Have you changed your production in recent years and the grapes you grow due to exports? If so how?
We have seen good sales increases to our neighbouring countries which has helped the turnover of our premium wines. It has shows that high quality wines are in demand and it is not just about cheap wines.
On the other hand, there has been an increase in demand for lower price point Villany wines. We make these wines with the same strict discipline, but use more straightforward varieties, without yield restriction and shorter maceration in order to be able to cater to higher volumes. But the combination of good volume and premium wines means the overall winery’s production has grown by 30% over the last five years.
What are the export countries for your wines?
Traditionally we sell our wines in Europe. With the exception of Italy, we have supplied our wines pretty much to all other countries. New markets are predominantly China, where for about three years now we are working on building up bigger representation on Central Eastern European markets. We are looking at growing our Russian markets too.
What are your key price points?
Between €4 and €9.5 ex cellar.
What perception do you think wine buyers have on Hungarian wine – is it changing?
We are working on growing the international reputation of Hungarian wines. We know this is a long journey, but we are also confident, that we will be successful at it, since we have all the tools to do so. Hungarian wine is excellent; however this is a given on the market. The price of our wines can be higher than other wines competing within Europe, but this is firstly justified because of their quality, secondly Hungarian winemakers are adjusting to these market trends and starting to make wines that can compete in price also.
We also need to be careful who we sell our wine to. We have just started the journey and are taking our first steps which area always the hardest. But we know if we can introduce our wines, and the customers get the chance to taste them, then they will be more likely to buy it, so we have to work together with the government to find the right way forward.
What are you doing to change the views of international wine buyers?
We are taking part in key wine competitions and tastings, and regularly help our consumers’ individual needs by holding wine dinners and personal wine tastings from Taiwan to London. We have key partners in most countries in Europe and we are working on building our networks further afield.
What do you think are the main benefits of Hungarian wine?
This all comes back to our unique Hungarian landscape. The Carpathian basin has all that is necessary for vines to thrive. We have mountains, rivers, four seasons where temperatures gives us the right number of sunny hours – can it get any better? With favourable conditions for making good wines, Hungarian winemakers only need courage, humanity and faith. If this all comes through in a sip of wine, we have achieved our goal. With all these ingredients we can make wine that reflects uniqueness and personality.
What are your ambitions for the winery over the next five years?
To increase sales and revenue and focus on the areas of the trade that are going to help Bock grow internationally across the right export markets. To do that we need to be continuously innovating in all areas. We look to create a constant buzz at the company, with new goals and ideas for people to follow – be it products or otherwise. We have just launched a new product, grape seeds under the Bock brand and the success of that has created new challenges. We are working on transforming our hospitality section Hotel Ermitage****, extending its wellness section, which will enable us to provide more enjoyable experiences to our guests.
If you are going to be successful as a family business you need to be continuously evolving which, in turn, create further challenges in terms of introducing new systems and processes to help make us grow. But it will also enable us to carry on with premium quality wines and remain amongst the wineries in the Hungary on the up. We work with motivated, committed and highly skilled professionals at all levels.
How do you see the UK market?
The UK is still a very desired market for winemakers due to its wine loving consumers, top wine culture, credibility and size of the market. Hence the entry barriers to the market are high, and you have to be well prepared for any kind of success, as it doesn’t come easily. I consider the UK a market with great prospects.
- The Buyer and Wines of Hungary is holding today a special sommelier workshop which will give the chance for leading buyers and top restaurants to share and learn from each others experiences about how to make the most of Hungarian wines in the premium on-trade. It is taking place at M Restaurant Victoria on November 7 between 10am and middday.