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History of Eger Wine (Part 4)

From Pylloxera to Today                                            

In the wake of the war between the Prussians and the French in the second half of the 19th century new opportunities arose for the sale of Eger`s  wines,  when demand for French wines ceased in the German areas.

This mini-boom, however, came to a swift and sudden end with the appearance of phylloxera in the country.

The phylloxera epidemic was first recorded in Hungarian territory at Pancsova in 1875, and by 1895 it had destroyed virtually all the vineyards in the country.

bulls blood festival

Publicity for the 2012 Egri Bikavér Festival. The festival is now one of the biggest in the Hungarian Wine calendar attracting visitors from all over the world.

In 1890 the sub-prefect of Heves County reported that the harvest had been wiped out  by phylloxera, and by 1891 the cultivations of grape vines had all but ceased in the county.

14 years after the arrival of the phylloxera 8,668 acres out of a total 9,183 acres of vineyards had been destroyed, that is 94% was lost.

Phylloxera may have brought one era to an end, but it also opened up a new one, one that informs today`s practices in the Eger Region. 

In 1896 the National Institute of Ampelography was established and it set up a unit in Eger in association with the school for vinedressers.

The varieties grown today were introduced at this time, e.g. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Medoc Noir and Merlot.

At the end of the 19th century, Jenő Grőber developed Egri Bikavér. He changed not only its composition, by introducing Medoc Noir into the mix, but also refined cultivation methods based on experience he had gathered in the south of France: the different varieties were grown, harvested and processed separately, and the wines matured separately only being blended at a much later stage.  This new Egri Bikavér was made principally of Kadarka, Blaufränkisch, Blauer Portugieser and Medoc Noir.

It should be noted that there were times when red wine fell out of favour and, even in Eger, the area given over to white grape varieties increased (in the 1920s and 1960s).

However, at the end of the 1970s, owing to the new plantings carried out in the Egri Bikavér Programme the proportion of red wines increased once again in the region. The location, composition and methods of cultivation and pruning in the new plantations, the “rough” method of cultivation, however, was geared towards the production of Egri Bikavér for mass consumption which this led to a decline in quality .

Even years after the political changes in 1990, there was a widely held belief that whatever was grown in Eger and red in colour was suitable for making Egri Bikavér.

Wine Regions of Hungary - The Eger region is marked in red

After 1990 however, it became obvious to vine-growers that the Egri Bikavér of Eger was a dry red but conceptions pertaining to its quality ranged between the extremes of, “anything grown in the Eger wine-district with at least a hint of red ” and “the top quality wine of the Eger Wine District.”

The need for some kind of standardisation became a pressing issue: The Association of the Vine-growers and Winemakers of Eger set out the regulations for the making of Egri Bikavér yet this was not binding on the winemakers and was regarded as a proposal or recommendation at the time.

After the passing of the law concerning vine-growing communities, the forming of vine-growing communities in the Eger Wine District and of the Council of Vine-Growing Communities and after proper negotiations, the Regulation of Egri Bikavér was ratified by unanimous decision by the Council of the Vine-growing Communities of the Eger Wine District on 27 June, 1997.

The document which has the status of legal law was signed with all due solemnity during the first Egri Bikavér Festival on 12 July 1997. By further specifying the terms of this document in 2002 and passing the regulation concerning Egri Bikavér Superior, the way was paved for the making and marketing of a Egri Bikavér of higher quality.

gal tibor cellar

The Gál Tibor Winery was at the forefront of restoring the Eger wine industry`s fortunes

Further development concerning the protection of the origin of wines is based on scientific research (Research Institute of Viticulture, Eszterházy Károly College) and has its current formula defined in the Product Description ratified in 2011.

Today the vine-growers of Eger can produce their wines of protected origin in three classes of quality (classicus, superior and grand superior).

It seems that today, despite all the setbacks, Egri Bikavér has regained its former glory and can now claim to be a dry red of some distinction.

This is the final part of the story of wine making in Eger, if you wish to read the other sections then they are as follows

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