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Talking Tokaji

Published:  23 July, 2008

As Tibor Kovcs of Htszl once said: Tokaji is world famous, but only in Hungary.' There's little doubt it has all the right ingredients - long history and tradition (Tokaj claims to be the oldest delimited wine region in the world), unique winemaking, memorable scenery and terroir. And it also has several passionate and charismatic evangelists for its wines, as well as a number of high-profile foreign investors. But the reality is that the wine industry in Tokaj as we see it today is only 15 years old and, like most teenagers, it has yet to fully make its mark on the world.

As far as generic promotion is concerned, the region really hasn't got itself very organised as yet, though, as Zwack points out, Until now people have been so busy getting their lives, wineries and balance sheets back in line after the regime change, we have only just started addressing consumers.' Howkins adds that many wineries have barely been breaking even, leaving few funds for promotion. Tokaj Renaissance - a group of 21 leading wineries, requiring minimum quality standards and control of at least 5ha - has recently arranged visits for wine writers and MW students. Its chairman, Lszl Mszros, says: We aim to work together

to re-establish our image.' Zwack says this marks a turning point for Tojaji and the region as a whole: Finally, we have all realised that unless we start promoting the category as whole - not as separate producers - we will not be successful.' To date, promotional activity has been largely up to individual producers. Disznk has been working with agent Champagne & Chteaux to serve Tokaji by the glass in several top London restaurants, capitalising on consumers switching from spirits to wine as a digestif. It has also matched Tokaji with Indian food at a dinner for sommeliers at Zaika to branch out from the Tokaji with dessert' trap. Forczek believes the only way to promote the wine is to get people to taste it; he has now taken more than 40 top sommeliers and their assistants to Hungary.

At the same time, the government has come under fire from private producers for failing to deal with privatising Kereskedhz, the state-owned Tokaji Trading House, seen as a drain on money that could be using for promoting Tokaji.

A proposed management buy-out failed last year, as the money being offered was deemed insufficient, but outside investors are reluctant to take on the burden of more than 3,000 small growers. Istvn Turoczi, of the Royal Tokaji Company, explains: We are the only wine region in Hungary directly influenced by politics.' There is little alternative employment in the region, so the wine industry has a major social role in providing income. As the number of growers is a significant voting population, the current government is unlikely to rock the boat.

It's strong point in Tokaji's favour is that so many investors have shown long-term commitment, spending heavily for little return - as yet - and no one has pulled out so far. Now production is on track, with exciting wine at all levels, and it is time for producers to work together to make Tokaji wines world famous outside Hungary, too.