Relentless obsession with quality
István Szepsy might now be considered the ‘Lord of Wine but he has never rested on his laurels. His story is one of relentless commitment to quality and research. As an heir to the family that effectively put Tokaji on the map, he’s taken the region’s recognition and winemaking standards further with his permanent quest for purity and terroir expression.
Location: Tokaji, Hungary
Total area under vine: 52 hectares
Interesting fact: István has done extensive research on Tokaji’s indigenous grape variety Furmint in order to understand its lineage and select the best plant material to extend plantings in each particular terroir. He has since become the go-to Furmint expert, with winemakers across Hungary, Austria (and beyond!) going to him to get cuttings for their own vineyards.
The Szepsy family has deep roots in the wine history of Tokaji, dating back to the 16th century. The man that developed the Aszú style (intense sweet wines made from botrytised – or nobly rotted – Furmint or Hárslevelű grapes) in the 17th century, carried this surname. But it was three centuries later that the Szepsy name would gain iconic status with István Senior at the helm of the estate.
Not only did he develop a unique and much sought-after range that is the standard all Tokaji winemakers work towards, but he has also played a central role in preserving, researching and documenting the winemaking heritage of the region. With a particular interest in geology, István has passionately mapped the vineyards of Tokaji with the aim of understanding the local terroir as well as its affinity to the local varieties, Furmint and Hárslevelű.
He was able to stand firm through challenging times, namely the period under Communist rule, during which viticulture was not encouraged and commercial independent ventures altogether banned. He managed to keep a small independent four-hectares plot and sold the yield to the state until its collapse in the 1990. He has since expanded his holding to 52 hectares – sixty percent of the which are recognized as first class vineyards (very much like Grand Crus) under the current Tokaji classification system – in which he has planted the local varieties after careful research into the distinct clones.
The yields are kept to minimum with only 50.000 bottles made each year and no second range produced – this means that alk the fruit has to be of premium quality. If not Szepsy simply does not release wine for that vintage…
His legacy is now set to be safely entrusted to his son István Szepsy Junior, a talented winemaker in his own right, with a particular passion for the family’s expanding focus on single-varietal dry wines. He, like his father, thinks this will be yet another great way of showcasing the full and unique potential of Tokaji’s terroir and indigenous grape varieties.