Hungarian Vine Part 1
In vino veritas
- in wine there is truth
The story of Hungarian wine is the story of Hungary…a proud nation with a storied history fighting to regain its place in the world on its own terms.
As human beings, we struggle through our environment in an attempt to create some sort of narrative for ourselves. Mother Nature will bend us to her will more often than not, so it is the relations amongst one another that we seek to shape and mold. With a voice comes recognition, a statement of existence and of creating a place in the world. Hungary’s voice, like its wine, used to hold sway over much of the world. Unfortunately, decades of turmoil, suppression, and a changing global landscape pushed Hungary to the sidelines.
Now largely freed from overt influence from the outside, Hungary is free to begin to re-shape its own narrative once again. One need to look no further than the Hungarian wine industry to find this resurgence at work. One of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world now finds itself climbing out of the shadows of its recent past and once again putting its stamp on the world. In doing so it faces many choices…choices that will dictate how the world perceives the Hungarian people, their ability to produce world-class wines, and if they can regain their place on the world stage.
If Hungary’s storied past in both viticulture and the arts is any indication, the future looks bright. There’s no loss of creativity, vision or healthy dissent in this nation. But it is also coupled with strong currents of tradition, heritage and pride. It’s all of these things that fascinated me so much the first time I visited in 2003, and a big part of what brought me back in 2018. My journey began in Budapest, one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to, and a place that highlights the competing interests and influences that make up modern-day Hungary.
Visiting a place you’ve been to before, but years later when you’re in a different time in your life, can be a very interesting experience. When I first came to Budapest I was 30yrs old and traveling alone, part of a Central European trip that also included Poland, Czech Republic and Croatia. At the time, I had quit my job back home and saved enough money (or so I thought…) to travel for 4-5 weeks. I had no real expectations for the trip, or for what I’d do once it was over. All I knew was that I needed a change in my life, something to remind me that there was so much more to experience and accomplish. The only goal was to experience and soak in as much as I could, while trying to avoid the usual tourist trappings. Because of this, I spent much of the time soaking in the sights and sounds of the city, observing its people but not frequenting the many museums or historical sites.
This time however, I was traveling with my good friend John, on what was partly a business trip. John is of Hungarian descent, and much like my situation 15yrs ago, found himself at a point in life where a change was needed. Passion being something that he has never lacked, John decided that now was the time to pursue his interest in all things wine and Hungarian. He set out to create his own narrative, to carve out a space in this world doing something that he feels strongly about.
A couple of things to know about John…he’s a few years younger than I, and doesn’t suffer from my Gen X apathy and cynicism. Nor does he subscribe to the majority of my beliefs or viewpoints. In some ways we don’t have a lot in common…yet that might be one of the very reasons we enjoy each other’s company, because what we do both enjoy is a need for a healthy discourse and finding the common in the uncommon. What we also have in common is a love of wine and good food, and he outpaces me in every regard in those departments. So when he asked me if I’d like to join him on his trip to Hungary, where he would be touring several vineyards and meeting business contacts, I of course jumped on it! John wanted someone to travel with, that could help with some of the logistics as well as document the trip. And in a characteristically unselfish manner, he thought it would give me an opportunity to hone my photo skills and experience a whole new side of Hungary.
Upon arrival in Budapest, we were lucky enough to be put up in a beautiful 2 bedroom apartment overlooking the Danube. This was a far cry from the hostels I had stayed in 15yrs prior! I am not a worldly traveller, having only visited a few countries, but Budapest lit up at night is by far the most beautiful city I’ve seen. Sitting on the balcony, soaking up the view and drinking a bottle of authentic Hungarian red wine, you couldn’t ask for a better start. If this was a predictor of things to come, this was going to turn out to be an unforgettable experience.
Stayed tuned for Part 2….