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Interview with Tamas Kovacs, owner of St Donat Wine Estate in Csopak

September 18, 2016


It's time to announce that three exquisite wines of the St Donat Wine Estate are now finally on UK soil and available in the webshop:

Csopak 2015, a beautiful Olaszrizling hegybor (hill wine)
Marga, a Furmint selection
Meszes, an Olaszrizling selection

We're really proud to present a Hungarian hegybor for - as far as we know -  the first time in the UK:

Csopak 2015 St Donat winery - Danube Wines

To celebrate the arrival of the trio, we interviewed Tamas Kovacs, owner of the St Donate Wine Estate. Challenges and achievements, past and future of winemaking in Hungary and around Lake Balaton, daily routine of a wine producer, red or white - here's what he had to say to Danube Wines.

It’s clear that the love of wine is in your blood. But still, a lot of people would choose a different path, leaving the family traditions behind and doing something else. Why did you decide to stay with the family business?

Tamas Kovacs: In my case, the situation is the other way round. Me and my father decided to revive a family tradition, so the wine estate you see today is not the continuation of something that already existed. Our family was born and bred around the Lake Balaton, and wine making used to be an important source of income for my ancestors both on my mother’s and my father’s side. After the war - sadly - winemaking became a hobby for my family due to the nationwide deprivatisation, but after the political changes of the ‘90s we could start again.

St Donat wine estate - Danube Wines

My dad works in the environmental service sector, my sister is a researcher in Oxford, my brother is a car engineer and I graduated as an economist. I wanted to work in foreign economic relations.

As a teenager, I was part of a student exchange scheme and spent some time studying in Belgium. That’s when I decided to work with wine. The reason is pretty simple:

I realised during my time abroad, that a demanding wine and gastro culture can be the strongest cultural message to the world.

Even the rather buttoned up Belgian society opened up when they learnt about the high quality wine production from the country I’m from. What’s more, I could even show some of our own wines to them.

St Donat wine estate Danube wines

I found that a nice bottle of wine could sometimes do more than months of tough diplomatic negotiations. Anyway, at the age of 20 I knew for sure that I wanted to produce great wine and possibly sell abroad.

How do you see the situation of the Balaton wine?

T.K: Hungarian wine is not very well known despite its exciting past and unique characters. This can be an advantage as well as a disadvantage.

The good quality/price ratio and uniqueness can provide huge surprises among wine merchants and consumers.

If we were able to produce wines along 2 or 3 local varieties, following a unified style and character, we would be able to create wines that can be understood and appreciated internationally. If we support that with sensible marketing, I believe we could really generate a much-needed interest towards Hungarian wines. A good example is Austria, whose wine culture has so many common historical roots with that of Hungary.

What does your average day look like?

T.KFrom September to December, it’s harvest season, whilst from April to July we work in the cellars and are busy doing the bottling, so I’m on the estate every single day. Between the two periods, I travel a lot. The US, Belgium and Holland are important markets for us. If I have the chance, I go and visit those countries every year. And if I can, I like to travel to America twice a year.

Besides, it’s also essential to attend a few professional events and community work is equally important.

St Donate wine estate, Tamas Kovacs, Danube Wines

I’m the curator of the so-called Csopaki Kodex (Csopak Codex), a local initiative that brings together local producers, and I’m a member of the Balaton Circle and Junibor community. I also give lectures at Corvinus University of Budapest on market strategies in the wine industry.

So, there’s always something going on. Luckily, I have a really great little team on the estate, so even if I’m away, everything runs smoothly.

What parts of work do you like the least?

T.KOffice work and dealing with bureaucracy … :)

What do you enjoy most about your work?

T.KBlending at the beginning of spring and professional tours.

What was the biggest challenge you managed to overcome so far?

T.KGetting listed on the wine menu of 3 Michelin star restaurants.

What’s your favourite wine and dish combination?

T.KThe most authentic triangle of the Balaton landscape: Olaszrizling, almonds and zander (a species of freshwater fish, closely related to perch - DW).

Do you like cooking?

T.KI’d prefer eating and drinking :)

What’s this year’s produce like?

T.KWe had some serious damage due to hail at the beginning of summer which gives us quite a bit of headache. I really hope that even if the produce is little, the quality remains still outstanding.

White or red? :)

T.KI’m a Balaton boy. If you say ‘wine’ to a born and bred Balaton kid, they’ll instantly think of white wine and it stays like that for the rest of their life. That’s how we are ‘coded’: The colour of wine is white.


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