‘Stefan Ożegowski, husband, father of two daughters, grandfather of a pair of grandchildren (7 and 3 years old). Once characterized by friends: "enthusiast of tennis and skiing, admirer of a good cuisine, expert in wine and human hearts". The latter is related to my profession. Wine is an opportunity for me to get to know the places where it is made and the people who create it. My contribution to the World of Wine is to prepare dinner for my friends and to convince them to listen to stories about the wines that we drink together. I would not exchange it for anything else in the world. Well, maybe for my own vineyard, where I would receive my friends anyway...' This is his (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition.
Poland in the 60s and 70s, is the country in which I was brought up and grew up. A country where we struggled with far different problems than lack of wine. Mostly vodka was drunk, beer here and there if it was accessible. The wine was mainly associated with a cider-like beverage, usually obtained from apples with a sulfur content in a bottle sufficient for preserving all wine resourcesin a small vineyard in Bordeaux (Chateau de Jabol, current year; "jabol" from apple). How could wine be a multi-dimensional passion for someone growing up in such a world? The passion that allows me to get to know not only the wine itself, but to discover places where it is made, to associate with people who create them, which is an experience as great as the taste of favorite wines.
In our house neither vodka nor beer had been drunk. Wine reigned, especially a dry red one. That's what my father used to serve several times a year – Gamza, Sophia, Gellala, or Egri Bikaver from Bulgaria, Algeria, Hungary respectively. I have never tried them so I do not know what their quality was. I only know that Egri Bikaver, one of the flagships of Hungarian winemaking, so wonderfully rebuilt in the new times, in no way resembles the sophisticated cuvee created today in Eger. They as imported wines were recognized equivalent to ones marked somewhere else as AOC, DOCG, VDP, ... – something luxurious. I think that's why I saw drinking wine as an exclusive privilege available to the few only. The children's imagination, albeit justified in those days, today untrue or even arrogant.
Everything turned upside down during one trip. I was 16 years old, beautiful summer in the middle of the 70s, I went with my high school friends to Hungary. Being aware of Hungary's enormous traditions in the history of viniculture, I happily accepted the invitation of one of our friends to visit the family vineyard. The vineyard was small, it produced wine basically on its own and friends of the house use. I do not know what vine was used, maybe riesling, quite popular in nearby Badacsony. The hosts treated us in a royal way…Or no, they welcomed us as much as usually Hungarians do. Giving us all the best, great food as well as fantastic company and atmosphere allowing for making frienshipsdespite the language barrier. White wine in a jug appeared on the table. The wine was collected from the barrel using the type of a bottle-gourd. I have never seen anything like this before or after. The host suggested that I give a try to fill a pitcher with wine using this bottle-gourd. Barrels, maybe two, maybe three, in a cellar, or rather a dugout. Getting a wine was a challange. But after a few attempts, it turned out that the wine in the bottle-gourd was not only enough to fill the pitcher, but also to try it right away at a spot. It was the first alcohol in my life I drank. The wine had to be of a very good quality, because despite couple of fillings and emptyings of pitchers the next day was free of any unpleasant sensations. On the contrary, it left an indelible memory of the charm of this place, the taste of dishes, wine, but above all the hospitality and openness of the hosts.
The year 1989 brought a lot of changes to our region (Central Eastern Europe). Everyday life and its challenges have become similar to those of other citizens of the continent today. The Hungarians, after years of socialist mediocrity, have beautifully rebuilt their viticulture. I honestly recommend tasting their achievements. The wine-making landscape in Poland is also changing. More wine lovers are coming year by year. We build, and in some regions, we rebuild our small, often interesting vineyards. Our choices regarding drunk beverages nowdays depend only on the taste, expectation and wealth. Although 20 years have passed since I started my adventure with wine, it was just that afternoon in Hungary with my my friends that carried me from the world of elitism and luxury to the world of wine appreciation and sharing. This allows me to fully understand today that a bottle of the best, most expensive wine is worth nothing if you do not have friends with whom you could share tête-âête the joy of wine. Tête-âête, because even in a large group wine whispers its secrets to each and every one of us in a different way.