WWC20 – Bott, Tokaj

Bott - Judit and József Bodó by Ferenc Dancsecs.

For the second entry in his Tokaj trilogy, Hungarian Gergely Ripka finds yet another producer investing not only in the vineyards but in the whole community. Dozens of entries to our sustainability heroes writing competition – all of those published so far – can be found in the guide.

Giving something back to the community Bott Pince in Bodrogkeresztúr

Sustainability can take on many forms. After dealing with Tokaj as a wine journalist for more than a decade, I have to say that the Bott Pince represents that ethos in its purest form in the region. This is the winery where the approach of ‘think globally, act locally’ defines itself in its most original and honest way, and today when a pandemic threatens us that way of thinking is becoming more important than ever. Judit and József Bodó (pictured above by photographer Ferenc Dancsecs) are Hungarian, but they were born in a different country. They arrived and then moved to Tokaj just 20 years ago, and now they successfully run their own organic family winery. At first, there seems to be nothing special in this story, but their long-lasting effect on the village and on the community of Bodrogkisfalud and Bodrogkeresztúr just might become an ageless and timeless example.

A young woman arriving with a suitcase from Slovakia

Judit Bott was born in Bős, József Bodó was born nearby in Somorja, in present-day Slovakia. Judit studied agriculture and after a short study detour to South Tyrol, she was invited to the Tokaj region in 1999, to work in a fresh and new winery. Arriving with a suitcase and after spending a few years in Bodrogkeresztúr, her boyfriend, József Bodó, joined her to help out on the weekends (he was studying Art History at that time). They got married and settled down in Bodrogkisfalud (a wedding present was one hectare of grapes in the Előhegy vineyard). Soon a local investor invited them to establish their own winery after witnessing their unadulterated and uncompromising work. They were young and brave enough to say yes to him and Bott Pince was born.

A slow, considered and organic progression

As they found their way, establishing a family in Bodrogkisfalud, Bott Pince started its beautiful progression towards organic growing and minimal intervention in the cellar, in order to show the terroir via the wines as purely as possible (they use only copper, sulphur and orange oil, but nothing else). Now they have 9 hectares in five vineyards, with no pressure imparted on them by any director or by any management. They have the freedom to create and define value on their own. Their elegant TokajDry wines age better than any from the contemporary scene (the 2005 and 2007 wines are still unbelievable). With high standards and great quality, while the vintages are getting hotter and hotter, the harvest is sometimes extremely early (like in 2018), and they are still able to keep their unique style in an elegant form, with sufficient acidity (they were awarded their estate star in TokajGuide in 2016).

With no heritage or know-how, and not having grown up in Tokaj, they had to learn everything about Tokaj wine from the basics, and it’s worked thanks to the passion and earnest spirit they invest into it every single day. But for them this career has to be more than just making nice wines in their milieu.

Sustaining local community is the key

The Bodós work with two local full-time employees, and the main message here is they are not just part-time or seasonal workers who then have to struggle to make a living after the harvest ends. They are employed day by day, week by week, for 365 days a year, with all the additional taxes paid by the Bodós. The pair also plan to employ two more full-time colleagues. ‘I have a vision, which is that we live in a civil, welfare society in Tokaj. And all the people – the children, the adults, the pensioners, the bakers, the cooks – who live here, are part of it’, Judit says. Of course, winemakers attract the most attention, but the Bodó family wants to transform that kind of attention into the general advancement of Bodrogkeresztúr and Bodrogkisfalud (the two villages are actually one).

They organise outdoor breakfasts for visitors alongside local producers of local cheese, jams and pálinka, under a huge oak tree outside the town hall. With local kids, they organise an annual charity fancy dress ball (Farsang in Hungarian), with a wine auction. From the revenue, they built a BMX park a few years ago, and last year an adventure garden. ‘It is essential to plant seeds that provide deep roots for local kids to connect them firmly to Tokaj.’ They take these kids to the theatre, on nature discovery hikes to the Zemplén hills, to sports camp, on local treasure hunts, also to the harvest and pressing of their own grape juice, while Józsi shows them what a proper aszú berry looks like (the sooner they learn it the better). Kids who leave kindergarten plant trees, with the parents and teachers, in the name of the same connection to the motherland, the historic wine region. Old and young people are all welcome. Judit is one of the engines of all these community-building events.

Represent the terroir in the glass and in 3D

I tried to find out, I always ask them, but unfortunately they have no recipe for the making of their mind-blowing wines. They do not measure pH – every move they make is instinctive. They avoid participating in wine competitions and big festivals – they prefer giving local experience. They have fabulously renovated an abandoned press house below the Csontos vineyard, where they organise special tastings for lucky visitors, after showing them around the volcanic terroirs (Határi, Kulcsár, Csontos). Just like their guests, they find peace and perfection when they taste the wine at the place of its birth. ‘We prefer to show the vineyards to visitors in 3D here’, as Judit says.

Most of their wines are sold locally to individual customers and wine distributors in Hungary, and also to abroad (their market is in huge trouble now, but friends and customers have shown a lot of support during these hard times. Their main purpose has been to keep all their employees, and still they think this is their biggest goal). Awareness and a simple way of working are what keep them on their path.

The rebirth of the old ceramics factory

The most recent project of the winery that never sleeps is a 400-year-old, legendary yet ruined factory in Bodrogkeresztúr, which was on sale for decades, when finally the Bodós bought it. It is going to be the new centre of their estate with their home, winery, cellar, tasting room, guesthouse, restaurant, and so on. First and foremost, they do not want to selfishly ruin a memory for locals – they’re seeking to reinvent it organically instead, so as a first step they’ve investigated and contacted the establishing Ullrich family and they’ve discussed the history of the old building in order to find the perfect plans for the reconstruction (carried out by local builders). Once, it had been the central marketplace of the village and then most of the citizens worked in the factory. The Bodós are currently moving in with the equipment and with barrels and soon with the kids, too.

For me, organic wineries and sustainability are about how much you give back to the community and to your neighbours, how much effort you can put into a common vision and purpose, while working hard to make your own living every day. Education is also a key factor in sustainability. László Alkonyi, a former wine journalist specialising in Tokaj, was once asked what Tokaj needs for wider success – more money, more investors, higher scores on wine contests or what? And he said the future of the wine region depends on how many kids are playing in the ditch by the side of the main road.