Regional agreements of great importance

The Friulian winegrowers hope to be able to reach an agreement with their Hungarian colleagues over the rights to the name "Tokaji," or names that sound like it. Everyone of good spirit is of course familiar with the Hungarian grape, from which a variety of wines are made, but most famously the sweet dessert wine Tokaji Aszú. The Friulian "Tocai" is a dry white wine which is regionally popular and ideal, as ANSA helpfully points out in their report, with fish. The Italian winemakers point out that the Friulian white has used the name "Tocai" since the Middle Ages, and that they would have difficulty marketing their old wine under the proposed new name, "Friuliano." Enzo Marsilio, of the Agricultual Association of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, is "moderately optimistic" that a compromise can be reached. But the last word may have come from the European Court of Justice, which has ordered the makers of both the Friulian Tocai and the Alsatian Tokay Pinot Gris to find a new name by 31 March 2007.


Anonymous said...

Fortunate Hungarian vintners, to be still in a position to dicker over issues of dénomination d'origine with their Friulian and Alsatian colleagues!

If things had gone just slightly differently half a century ago, they would now have little left to argue about. In the heyday of Stalinism, during the early 1950s, the vineyards of Tokaj and the wines they produce came perilously close to "being disappeared" in the name of the class struggle.

The vineyards and cellars which produce Tokaji Aszú (the legendary natural sweet dessert wine) as well as Tokaji Szamorodni and other varieties --
(for more see http://www.kfki.hu/~rw2003/bor.html ) -- owe their existence to the slopes of the Tokaji-hegy (Tokaj Mountain, elev. 516m), the isolated cone of a long-extinct volcano at the spot where a turbulent mountain stream called the Bodrog joins the waters of the larger Tisza (Tisa) River at the northern edge of the Great Hungarian Plain. The unique combination of soil, topography and micro-climate, the "noble fungus" endemic to the ancient wine cellars dug into the mountainside, and of course the vines and the skills of the vintners, are the sine qua non of the famous wines of Tokaj (Tokaji is the adjectival form of Tokaj).

Under the Communist one-party regime installed in Hungary by the Soviet occupation forces after World War II, the newly installed commissars sought to stamp out not only the bourgeois ante-bellum order, but also its symbols. Among the latter, unfortunately, were the world-famous wines of Tokaj, which were seen as the embodiment of aristocratic decadence.

At the advice a Soviet agronomist comrade, the sunny slopes of the Tokaj Mountain were declared to be ideal for growing onions -- a new crop that would symbolize the triumph of the proletariat -- and on some of the choices acreage the old vines were ploughed up and replaced with onion fields. Taking the assault on politically suspect mountains and wines one step further, the regional directorate of public works started up a quarry to turn the mountain into gravel, demolishing both vineyards and historic wine cellars in the process.

Fortunately, the death of Stalin and the events of 1956 (the 20th Congress of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, and the revolution in Hungary that fall) took the steam out of these pioneering efforts. Viticulture was politically rehabilitated on Tokaj Mountain, but henceforth it was to produce wine in quantity for the masses, with prizes awarded for production exceeding the quotas set by the five-year plan. The plan was a success -- a triumph socialist scientific agriculture. For much of the the latter half of the 20th century, the wines produced by the once-famous Tokaj vineyards were indeed fit only for a proletarian to drink.

Quality production returned to Tokaj only about 15-20 years ago. This may help explain why Tokaj growers today are so aggressive in protecting their brand, which only recently has begun to reclaim its former cachet and its export market.


Eric Gordy said...

Wow, thanks for shedding light on this piece of vinicultural history. Imagine those fields given over to hogyma!

Eric Gordy said...

Not that I have anything against onions, of course.