The renaissance of Hungary's famed botrytized sweet wine, Tokay, is forging ahead, as another major wine estate has begun operation in the historic Tokay region. Árvay & Co. is the creation of Janos Árvay, one of Tokay's most respected winemakers, and his investment partner, Christian Sauska, a Hungarian-American entrepreneur based in Connecticut.
Carrying a price tag of $4 million, Árvay & Co. opened in late October with a state-of-the-art winery, in Tokay's 17th century former town hall, and two cellars, one of which was carved out of Tokay's loess soils more than 400 years ago. The winery owns nearly 250 acres of vineyards on prime sites, including Medve and Istenhegy.
Most of the financing for Árvay & Co. has been provided by the 55-year-old Sauska, while Árvay, 47, has contributed some of his own vineyards, as well as his extensive expertise. Between 1992 and 2000, he was chief winemaker at Disnóko, the highly successful Tokay winery owned by AXA, the French insurance firm that also owns Bordeaux's Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron, Sauternes estate Château Suduiraut and Port producer Quinta do Noval.
Sauska said, "I teamed up with Janos Árvay not only because he makes wonderful wines, but he is also compassionate, honest, warm and never afraid to say, 'I don't know.' Even with his impressive background, he is still very open to learn more. And that is very important for a region undergoing a rebirth, like Tokay."
Árvay & Co. focuses on production of Tokay Aszú with 5 or 6 puttonyos (an indication of the wine's sweetness). In addition to these wines, there is a cuvée called Edés Élet, or "sweet life." This is produced like an aszú, for which botrytized grapes are made into a thick, sweet paste and then steeped in a base wine; the juice is then pressed and put into oak barrels for fermentation and aging. However, the cuvée is lighter-bodied due to a shorter barrel-aging time than what is required for aszús, which must spend at least two years in barrels prior to sale.
Árvay & Co. uses the traditional Tokay grape varieties Furmint, Hárslevelu and Muscat for its aszús and the Edés Élet cuvée. The wines undergo minimal exposure to oxygen while in the barrels to keep a fresh, pronounced fruit character. (Under communist rule, it was common for Tokay wines to undergo heavy oxidation; producers are now moving away from this practice.) Said Sauska: "We don't want even a hint of oxidation in our wines! That would take away their definition."
The aszús and Edés Élet are bottled under the Arvay & Co. Hétfürtös, or "Seven Clusters," label. This name refers to the maximum yield of seven grape bunches per vine growing in the winery's top vineyards, which are used for production of these wines. "Because of limited yields, the quality is very high," said Sauska. "But the production volumes, therefore, can be quite low."
For the 2000 vintage, the winery's second, only a little more than 4,160 cases of aszú and 1,000 cases of the Edés Élet were produced; each case contains six 500ml bottles. Nevertheless, Árvay & Co. is already exporting the wines to Western Europe and Japan and expects to enter the U.S. market this spring. According to Sauska, the aszús to retail for $60 to $70 and the cuvée for $50 to $60.
Árvay & Co. also produces late-harvest and dry wines from vineyards with higher yields. These are marketed as "Red Label" wines. However, the yields in those vineyards eventually will be cut as well, said Sauska, and the Red Label will be phased out in favor of more Hétfürtös aszús and cuvées.
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