Hungary Magazine

Born and raised in Tokaj: the girlboss behind the Szóló Winery

Wine, first and foremost, is art. A glimpse into the soul of the land and the winemaker alike. A carrier of stories from nature, plants, sunshine, wind, life, and nurturing hands. A teller of values, struggles, beautiful thoughts, magic, hardship, and life.

Technically, making wine naturally is still a topic that some of the wine world debates, but the recent French Law on “Vin Méthode Nature” (a label that aims to formalize low-intervention winemaking techniques) have nudged many low-intervention and natural vintners in Hungary to form an even stronger community.

Natural winemaking in Hungary is still in its infancy, and many wineries are trying to navigate the international demand and national pressure. It isn’t easy to manage with the strict and counterproductive rules the integrated food safety authority often proposes. These obstacles, however, can’t get in the way of those who are committed to making chemical-free, beautiful, honest wines.

One of the pioneers of gentle, nature-focused winemaking is Tímea Éless, the driving force behind Szóló Wine winery in Tokaj.

“In farming, I find it essential to treat the plants with the utmost respect.”

She is no ordinary woman. Quiet, gracious, but firm and driven. Born and raised in Tokaj, she learned everything she knows about wine and life from her grandmothers. After a little soul searching in the Hungarian capital, she was happy to come home to her hometown, nature, and vines. She took over her grandfather’s 0.3 hectares in the Ötvenhold-dűlő in 2009, and with that, Szóló Wines was born.

By 2014, Tímea (with her husband, Tamás) had purchased additional plots, completed the winemaking facilities’ set-up, and were ready to use the cellar. From day one, they aimed to cultivate vineyards in harmony with nature and produce beautiful, low-intervention, natural wines reflecting the area they grow in and the soil alike.

Always learning while reaching back to the roots is the true essence of Tímea’s work. Every bottle is a piece of her heart, a slice of her beautiful homeland – this is what makes her an incredible winemaker.

I met Tímea for lunch (and a glass of her beautiful Puro 2019) to ask some questions.

Why did you decide to move back to Tokaj after all?

It was quite simple, really – it made so much sense. I have spent my most influential years in Tállya, Tokaj. I love Budapest, but I always had this feeling that my life there, the big city life, is a mere act of compensation for something that was missing. Growing up in the countryside leaves you with a sense of longing for nature when you are not there.

Tokaj was a blessing, my family lives there, so it was an easy decision. I cannot believe how lucky I am – for me, returning was everything. Coming home to nature has left my heart full and open with no restrictions. All here is so peaceful, and with everything we do, the sky’s the limit – quite literally, with the stars, the moon, and the quiet.

To me, Tokaj is everything. I always feel like I hit the ultimate jackpot, I have got given an incredible gift, and finally, a shelter. Being here and making wine is an incredible present that keeps on giving, a blessing that I treasure and carry in my heart. I only hope that I can honestly give back the essence of home and show it to the people through my craft.

The Tokaj Wine Region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What made you choose the natural route in winemaking?

The grapes and the wines. They are my real influences. I always want to give them the best opportunity I can – I want them to “grow up,” develop and become the way they want to be. In farming, I find it essential to treat the plants with the utmost respect. Supporting the grapes, being non-invasive and preventive, instead of treating them just like simple crops. So, if you treat a plant with such gentle care, why wouldn’t you do the same with the juice? It is very logical when you think about it.

Years and years ago, I was not aware of natural wines as a category. I did not have the opportunity to be with the community or taste with natural winemakers or like-minded people. It took me almost two years to realise that I am not going in the right direction with the wines I was making. It was like a gut feeling and reaction. I started to realise that the unfiltered, unfined new wines, the gently pressed juices are so superior compared to those who have undergone all sorts of chemistry, fining, and “make-up.”

From that moment, I knew what my calling was with the wines. To make them as close to nature as possible. I am grateful to the professionals who helped me along the way, especially in the Hungarian community.

What is natural wine for you?

The purest form of connection. An authentic communicator between nature and humans, between people and a bridge linking us to something that we may not understand yet, something supernatural.

As a female winemaker, what is the biggest challenge you are facing in the industry?

Maintaining a work-life balance is especially challenging at times. I am a woman, a winemaker, a wife, a mother of two, and, unfortunately, a complete perfectionist. Often, it requires so much strength to balance everything, to give my best everywhere, all the time. Society is not wired to create a nurturing environment for women who have their own ambitions to shine.

On top of that, a family or a business to care for. People often see women as mothers or carers first (which is a great profession and one of the most important things), but we are often not encouraged to bloom in every aspect of our life. At least for now. We are here to change that!

“To me, Tokaj is everything. Being here and making wine is an incredible present that keeps on giving.”

Your biggest influences?

My grandmothers. Their strength, grace, gentleness, humanity, faith, wisdom, tenacity, and the values they slowly planted in me, without agenda. That is what I carry, and this is what I aspire to show through my craft.

A 2020 favourite from your cellar? I know I will always want to drink the Puro!

Great so far, and it makes me really happy that we are using absolutely no sulfur in 2020. No favourites as of yet; everything is super young right now and still in the making. Our Hetény Furmint (from a young plantation) is promising – we are fermenting it in a 675-liter ceramic egg and a stainless steel tank. We will blend the ceramic wines into the 2020 Puro. Too excited for the coming year!

Amazing! Any plans for the year coming?

Loads of plans, full of hope. I want to learn more, especially about biodynamic agriculture. My only goal is to show people the true spirit of natural wines and a piece of us with the winery.I can’t wait to see everyone again; I miss tastings and little events.

Interview by Rebeka Győrfi, originally published by Lazy Women.

Find Rebeka drinking natural wine, stuffing cheese in her face or stalking cute animals on the regular. As the creator of Natúr Magazin, she hopes to spread stories about Eastern European natural winemakers, sustainable producers, small businesses, creatives and many more. Rebeka truly enjoys eye rolls (directed at snooty somms and wine nonsense), big chats about sustainability + diversity, and cool womxn-created things.

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Lazy Women is a growing team of writers and creatives, from a wide range of nationalities, disciplinary backgrounds and lived experiences, who have gathered to give voice to their own understandings of the female experience and its relation to the public/private dichotomy. Its mission is to challenge the negative connotation of laziness and reclaim it by providing a platform that can be used to make public the many creative, literary and academic endeavours women around the world pursue in the private sphere, and therein often considered inherently less valuable than monetized or public work.

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.