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© Gyorgy Darabos

The story of István Szepsy, 'the Lord of Wine' and his legacy

History suggests that Szepsy should know what he’s doing when it comes to crafting wine in Tokaji - his family has been making wine in the region since (at least) the late 16th century. He carries the same surname as the man who originally put Tokaji on the map by developing the complex Aszu technique in the 17th century. Here is the story of how this independent producer has played an important role in protecting the local winemaking culture.

István Szepsy Senior - committed defender of Tokaj's wine
István Szepsy Senior, or as he is locally known as, 'the Lord of Wine', has an unfailing commitment to wine; he managed to hide a small independent vineyard parcel from the ruling Communists right up until the 1970s. During the socialist regime, he planted about four hectares of his own vineyards, delivering the yield to the state until the ruling party changed in 1990. Since then, Szepsy has focused obsessively on quality wine production without looking back: out of 52 hectares of plantings, less than 50,000 bottles are made.

Szepsy was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic in 1999. In 2001, he was the first winemaker from Tokaj-Hegyalaja who was awarded the Winemaker of the Year – Hungary. As the second person in the world, he received the Les Seigneurs du Vin (lit. The Lords of Wine) award, which is considered as the Academy Award of winemaking due to its special rank.

Each family member at the Szepsy Winery has their own defined task. Besides his wife two daughters and son, his daughter-in-law and son-in-law are also important players in the everyday work of the winery. It is well-know that Isván Szepsy is continuously and passionately interested in searching for the best vineyards and finding the unique plots within them.

Continuing the legacy

István Szepsy Jenior graduated as an enologist in 2004. As Chief Winemaker of the St. Tamás Winery, Szepsy Jr. creates wines that express the real values and individual character of the terroir from Tokaj—the world’s first classified historic wine region—through the indigenous Furmint variety.

He is continuing to explore the potential of new areas in the Tokaj region, as the vines grow older and the wines more intense with time. He makes enormous sacrifices in terms of crop thinning and even cutting off the wings of individual bunches to imbue his wines with the essential character of each parcel of vines. His sweet wines are impressive, and his aim is increasingly to understand the very precise but varied character of his different vineyards and express them in a range of dry wines, notably from the great grape of Tokaj, Furmint - although he does make varietal Hárslevelű too.

Visiting the vineyards is a great way to learn more about Tokaj's outstanding wine varieties. Reservations are always recommended - to try the Szepsy family wines you can visit the Szent Tamás Estate.