• Carrying on family dreams at the Zsirai Winery in Hungary

    The Zsirai Winery covers three of the most important wine regions in Hungary: Tokaj, Somló and Villány. Each region has its own winemaking teams producing authentic wines from that area. Founded in 2005 by the late Csaba Zsirai it is now run by his daughters Petra and Kata and a small team who want to carry on and bring to life his dream of producing wines from indigenous Hungarian wine varieties. Here Mate Csanaky, export director, how they are going about it.

    The Zsirai Winery covers three of the most important wine regions in Hungary: Tokaj, Somló and Villány. Each region has its own winemaking teams producing authentic wines from that area. Founded in 2005 by the late Csaba Zsirai it is now run by his daughters Petra and Kata and a small team who want to carry on and bring to life his dream of producing wines from indigenous Hungarian wine varieties. Here Mate Csanaky, export director, how they are going about it.

    mm By January 11, 2019
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    Miles MacInnes, managing partner of UK importers, Jacots Wine Merchants says the wines from the Zsirai Winery in Hungary are “absolutely the sort of food-friendly, pure, elegant and complex styles” of wine that they are looking to bring to the premium on-trade.

    Tell us about your own background and that of the winery?

    Zsirai Winery was established by Csaba Zsirai in 2005, who was a successful entrepreneur, and he wanted to fulfill his dream to own some vineyards and have a wine of his own. Time passed by and eventually, he owned 18 ha together in three different wine regions, through Hungary. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2011.

    Shortly after his death, I joined to the winery answering the call of his daughter Petra. She and her sister, Kata decided to not waste their father’s dream. Ever since then, we are running the winery with a handful of employees, achieving more and more of our goals.

    Peta and Csaba Zsirai in 2005
    Petra and Kata Zsirai have taken the  Zsirai Winery on from their late father and hoping to make the wines he would be proud of

    What is your average annual  production and what grapes do you grow?

    Our annual production is around 30,000 bottles/year. We grow mostly white varieties: Furmint, Hárslevelű, Olaszrizling, Juhfark. Also, we have some red varieties in Villány, like Kékfrankos and Kadarka. Fortunately the market is looking for indigenous grapes from Hungary, so we have been able to use the grapes from when we started and not looked to have to plant anything different.

    What is your approach to winemaking? 

    We try to interfere in nature’s business as less as possible. It means, that we try to avoid any chemicals in the vineyards. Also we don’t use any yeast for the fermentation.

    What is the 2018 vintage like?

    It’s was a very challenging year. It was the earliest harvest in my career. Most of the elders in the village also couldn’t recall such an early harvest. We have had to work hard to keep the acidity levels right, so it has been a nice vintage for dry wines, but quite a poor one for the botrytized ones.

    What are your main export markets?

    We sell most of our wines in Europe, but we also have some partners in China. The European market is obviously close to us, it’s easier to maintain personal relationships with our partners, which is always good for the sales. The Chinese market is also a fast growing market for Hungarian wine with some growing interest for sweet Tokaji wines.

    The vineyards at the Zsirai winery in Somlo
    The vineyards at the Zsirai winery in Somlo

    What are your key price points?

    From €10 to €50.

    What perception do you think wine buyers have of Hungarian wine?

    I think the general perception is rather bad than good. However the past couple of years, there is a constant development by the Hungarian producers, and the professionals have noticed that. It’s far from perfect, but it’s getting better and better.

    I think the most that we can do to improve our reputation with buyers and around the world is to produce really high-quality wines. We have attended quite a few tastings and fairs in recent years and this all helps to get your name and your wines better known. Of course, the personal experience is the best way to convince buyers, so organising tours and trips to Hungary is essential as well.

    What do you think are the main benefits of Hungarian wine?

    The diversity and the unique soils. We have quite a few unique grapes, which are almost totally unknown to the market. Varieties like: Furmint, Juhfark, Hárslevelű, etc. These grapes have very unique characters, completely different of the global varieties. 

    What are your ambitions for the winery over the next five years?

    In the next five years, I would like to maintain a strong presence on some of our priority markets. Markets like the UK, China, EU and the US. So it is going to be a case of going step by step. Finding the ideal partner is the key. Fortunately we have a good team for that.

    How do you see the UK market?

    I think the UK market is very professional. The importers plan much more ahead, than in other countries. They don’t invest money or time in any wine/winery, if they are not 100% sure, that the wines will succeed in the UK market.

    • You have the chance to taste the latest Furmint wine styles being imported into the UK from Hungary at the dedicated Wines of Hungary Furmint tasting on January 30 between 4pm and 6pm at 67 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5ES. There will be up to 60 Furmint wines to taste from 20 different producers as well as the chance to talk to their UK importers, including Jascots and Alliance Wines.  It also marks the start of Furmint February, with a month of activities designed to promote the key wine style from Hungary, including the chance to enter the Furmint Retailer of the Year competition.  You can register and sign up for the tasting here. 

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