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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

No More Sour Grapes? Down Memory Lane to Report on the Renaissance & Resentment in Tokaj, in 1995

I happened upon a collection of Business Europa magazines earlier today, a long-defunct publication which did its limited best to report on the former Communist Eastern Europe in those exciting days of the 1990s. It was a time when the abundance of wild stories was only matched by the rarity of on-time editorial payments.

Photo: A shot of the first page of this 1995 article. I'm fairly sure it's not my pic, though I happen to know the gentleman deep in thought among the vines. It looks good, even though Csaba - as far as I know - couldn't tell his furmint from his hárslevelű.

I picked up the November-December 1995 issue and began reading a feature I'd done on Slovenia. I remember driving there one September Sunday, climbing up the hill away from Balaton towards Nagykanizsa (no motorway back then) and, after a short stretch through Croatia, crossing into Slovenia, near Ptuj.

Then, as the sun departed from view, it began to rain cats and dogs all the way to Ljubljana. My God, former Yugoslav roads were awful, not least because it seems Marshall Josip Broz Tito never had the money to put up signage, a practice seemingly followed by the authorities in newly independent Slovenia.

I suppose it might have been trying to keep the car on the road between the slow-moving lorries splashing their way towards the Slovene capital, but I swear that not once on the 100 km from Slovenska Bistrica to the outskirts of Ljubljana did I see any indication of how many more kilometres this nightmare ride had to go.

But I digress, sort of. For while I remember that drive, I could remember diddly squat about what I had written, nor who I had met, nor where in the four-pages I had scribed on Slovenia for the magazine.

But it got worse. For some reason the editor had chosen the lead article of that issue to be one on Hungarian wines, also written by your truly. (Hello Justin - I'm sure you had your reasons, but the Slovenia piece had more gravitas and should have been up front IMHO.)

Now I did remember visiting Mátyás Szőke (who not long ago sadly passed away, I believe) at his cellar in the Mátra hills, and one or two other places I'd visited, but if the piece had not had my name on it, I would not have dared claim to be the author.

The general wine piece was followed by another, on Tokaj (Yes, this issue was rather heavy on the grape, wasn't it?), which I've decided to reproduce here for blogsters.

Now I have scant memory of this sojourn in north-east Hungary either, nor of what I wrote, so it's no different from the previously mentioned two pieces, except I'm pretty sure this was my first visit to Tokaj, and, to my personal delight, I saw that the first person quoted in the story is non other than László Mészáros, head of the Disznókő Winery.

I wrote about László and his wines after a tasting in Gundel last November - see:

and at the time I was wondering when and how I'd first met him. Well, now I know, though, in truth, I can't remember the encounter. One thing for sure, however, he has a great story and remains now, as then, alwasy prepared to find time to respond to journalists - well, this one anyway.

That's the background to this story, which I've photographed for this post. It was a time of great upheaval, when the good vintners of Tokaj (and the bad) were trying to get to grips with selling their wares to Paris, London and New York in place of Leningrad, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. And for many, it wasn't proving easy.

And while I'm at it, here's the final page of the general wine piece, and four happy ex-pat imbibers, in case anyone recognises them.

Photo: If memory serves me well, I took this piccie at the 1995 Budapest Wine Festival.

This was in the days when the primary purpose of the event was to showcase Magyar wines, small winemakers could afford to attend and visitors could risk HUF 100 on a deci or two of a a little-known vintage.

How times have changed.

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