(June 2019) Though vineyards can be very beautiful with their lush green foliage and jewel-like clusters of grapes, anyone who has worked amongst the vines knows that it can be back-breaking work with long hours of suckering, thinning, and sculpturing the vines. Obviously on certain occasions, this could result in some exhausted workers letting loose a few swear words. However, there is one famous wine region of the world where the vineyards were considered to be so sacred and a gift from God that anyone caught cussing could be fined.
“The fine was actually doubled if you were a noble man,” explained Dr. Peter Molnar, General Manager of Patricius Winery and President of the Council of Tokaj. Yes, the region was Tokaj, Hungary, and the timing was probably between 1631, when the sweet noble wine of Tokaj was said to be discovered, through the mid 1700’s, when the Church held so much dominance over the region.
“Our special Tokaj Aszu and Eszencia wines were coveted by kings, queens, and priests,” stated Peter. “From the beginning, these wines were so special that they were considered to be the wines of royalty.” Still called “liquid gold or liquid luxury today,” the rarest Eszencia’s are only produced in special years, each single berry picked individually by hand, and are so expensive that they are often served in a crystal spoon.
Given this background, it only makes sense that swearing in the vineyard was outlawed. Indeed the “vineyard was like a church” and they had to be protected. This may be why Catherine II of Russia sent members of her royal army to guard the vineyards for more than 90 years. Yes, the history of the Tokaj region is rich, fascinating, and delicious.
Historical Tokaj Tasting at Buena Vista Winery
I heard all of these fascinating stories from Peter Molnar when I attended a historical winetasting at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, California on June 22, 2019. Peter, along with a delegation of Hungarian dignitaries, winery executives and guests, all enjoyed a tasting of four exquisite wines: a dry Furmint and 2008 Aszu under the Buena Vista label, but produced in partnership with the Patricius Winery in Hungary, and two rare Eszencias.
Tokaj Eszencia is a special wine only made in certain years when the conditions are right to produce grapes of great sweetness in the small village of Tokaj in Hungary. Then it is aged in small demi-johns for years where it only ferments to about 5% alcohol, creating a drink of exquisite sweetness with notes of honey, apricot, marmalade and brown sugar. According Peter, it has excellent health properties with beneficial anti-oxidants. In the old days, it was used as medicine and served in a small spoon.
Buena Vista winery, owned by Jean-Charles Boisset, established this special partnership with Tokaj, Hungary to celebrate the history of Buena Vista, which is California’s oldest premium winery formed in 1863 by the Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy.