There is no arguing that Eger has a long tradition of wine
making but it is impossible to ascertain exactly when vines were first
cultivated in the region.
Archaeological findings on the side of Nagy Eged Hill, however, preserve the memory: a paleo-vine variety dating from 30 million years ago known as Vitis Hungaricus. Naturally this does not resemble present-day vine varieties too much; nevertheless it suggests a plant with a great past.
It is therefore possible to state with some certainty that vines were under cultivation in the Eger region even before the time of the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin.
Harvest in the vineyards of Eger
Though historical records do not give the exact date of the beginnings of vine-growing around Eger, they nevertheless imply that clearings of the hillsides around the town were already covered with extensive vineyards in the 11th century.
The chronicles describe a flourishing wine culture by the time of the beginning of the 13th century.
This is due to the organisational work done by the Bishopric of Eger, founded by Stephen I (St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary).
Monastic orders coming in with the establishment of the Bishopric, such as the Cistercian order, which came to Hungary from Clervaux from the affiliated church of Citeaux of Burgundy and which was a leader in the development and dissemination of new agrarian techniques, may have brought vine stalks with them intending to establish cultivation in their new home.
Monks were followed by French, German and Italian settlers brought in to increase the population of the area who added their own experience of agriculture, and in particular vine-growing, to the local traditions.
Walloon settlers invited by King Béla IV after the Mongolian invasion of Hungary had a particularly important role since they not only increased the planting of vines but also introduced new methods of farming, vine dressing and wine production.
The storing of wine in barrels instead of the earlier wine-skins, for instance, is linked with the Walloons.
The cellars of Eger and of its neighbouring areas were created out of a need to store the wine coming from the produce of the steadily increasing vineyards.
The need to solve the issue of storing wine was especially important for the Church, that is, the Bishopric and the Chapter, since they had to deal not only with the wine coming from their own estates but also with the tithe which was demanded from all local vine-growers by royal decree.
The first such cellar of the Bishopric built for the storing of wine coming from the tithe could be found in the palace of the bishop, which was housed in the castle of Eger in the period from the 11th to the 13th century.
The Archiepiscopal Wine Cellar
Over the course of centuries the town lending its name to the region developed into an important ecclesiastical centre and vine-growing and wine-making played an increasingly significant role in its life.
By the 16th century there were extensive vineyards in the neighbouring villages around Eger, which relegated all other agricultural activities into the background.
This period was the first golden age of wine culture in the Eger region which was eventually disrupted by the Turkish occupation in the wake of the loss of Eger castle in 1596.