Grand Tokaj is the leading Hungarian winemaker in state ownership, a guardian and protector of our national winemaking traditions in its position as the largest winery in the historical Tokaj-Hegyalja Wine Region, bearer of the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its activities consist principally of winemaking and wine sales, organising wine tastings, and the cultivation and procurement of grapes for wine production.
Formerly operating under the name of Tokaj Kereskedőház, the winery set off on the path of renewal in 2013, as part of the company’s fresh commitment to the production of quality wines. The full transformation process entails the ongoing construction of a modern winemaking complex that fulfils the demands of the 21st century, as well as the updating of the winery’s corporate and product image. The aforementioned name change being one important milestone in the history of the winery.
The transformation was necessary not only for the company to be able to break into the global market with products of an improved standard, but also in order to ensure that Tokaj wines once again assume their rightful place on the international market for quality wines.
The winery with its 54-hectare vineyards plays a role of vital importance in the wine region, accounting for some 30% of the region’s total wine production. As an integrating force in the region, it purchases grapes from more than 1,200 small producers working some 1,050 hectares of cropland.
Thanks to developments, the winemaker is now able to manufacture products to a higher standard from grapes cultivated both on its own land and procured from outside producers. A storage tank facility of 66,000 hectolitres capacity was opened in 2014 providing the winery the technological conditions necessary to produce wine of an international standard and a bottling plant with an annual capacity of 10 million bottles has begun operation in early 2017. Further developments will be carried out in 2017 and the years following at the company’s site in Tolcsva and at the company's cellar in Szegi.
Modernisation has also brought significant results at the winery’s vine cultivation branch. Between 2013 and 2015, a survey of cultivating potential and the condition of existing vineyards was carried out, as a result of which a geographic information system (GIS) has been created to support decision-making, permitting grape procurement at the winery to be modelled and planned ahead.
Reflecting a new spirit of winemaking, the wines of the Grand Tokaj winery are prepared under the guidance of Károly Áts, winner of the title of “Winemaker of the Year” in 2012 and acclaimed for his 100-point Tokaji Essencia, who has been the company’s chief oenologist since 2013.
Károly Áts believes that a winemaker’s personality always seeps through the wine, and his wines therefore radiate happiness and joie de vivre. He always thinks positively, as he believes that otherwise joy will not permeate the wine, for good wine can only be made by a happy winemaker. Áts considers himself a happy man, whose work is also his hobby. Born and bred in Tokaj-Hegyalja, grapes and wine always played a part in his life through his father. His aim is to return nature’s gifts through his wines and to bring joy to wine drinkers.
“I was born in a wine region I regard as a miracle. This is my homeland. I was born into a family where my father and mother taught me to respect and love nature. My father would always say, ‘Son, just always be yourself and no one else.’ And neither do I want to be. All I ever wish to be is the Karcsi Áts he raised me to be.”
For this expert with almost a quarter of a century of experience as a winemaker, the choice of wine region in which to pursue his career was never in doubt. Naturally wine can be made elsewhere, but what Áts has always desired is to show the true capabilities of Tokaj. And he has proven successful in this endeavour, as the many facets of the Tokaj region and the special character of its historical terroirs can genuinely be felt through his wines.
Launching his professional career at the Technical School of Winemaking in Budafok, Áts graduated in oenology from the University of Horticulture in 1988. After gaining his degree, he worked for six years at the Tokaj-Hegyalja State Winery, the legal predecessor of Tokaj Kereskedőház, initially as an intern and later as cellar manager. In 1994, he joined the Royal Tokaji Wine Company, where he later became chief oenologist. In April 2013, he joined the Grand Tokaj winery, where he likewise holds the position of chief oenologist.
In 2002, Károly Áts created Áts Cuvée, the now legendary late-harvest Tokaj sweet wine that bears his name. In 2006, American magazine Wine & Spirits awarded his 1999 Tokaji Essencia 100 points. In the same year, he was chosen as “Winemaker of the Year” in Tokaj-Hegyalja. In 2009, his 2003 Betsek Aszú wine was an absolute winner and his 2007 dry Furmint a category winner in the “Top 100 Wines” competition of the daily Népszabadság. In 2012, he was awarded the titles “Winemaker of Wineries” and “Winemaker of the Year.” In recognition of his outstanding professional work in the service of development of the Tokaj-Hegyalja Wine Region, Áts received the Civil Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary in 2014.
Grand Tokaj is a highly important winemaker in Tokaj-Hegyalja, as reflected not only in the quantity of basic materials it produces, but also in the integrating role it plays in the region. The state-owned company accounts for some 40% of the region’s total wine production. With approximately 70 hectares of its own vineyards, the winery also purchases grapes from more than 1,400 small producers working some 1,150 hectares of cropland.
Besides making quality wines, the state winery is committed to the goal of helping the work of local farmers. For example, it endeavours to make producers aware of the procurement prices applying to each given year as soon as possible so that they have good time to assess the financial benefits of cultivating quality grapes. Growing grapes of premium quality is of fundamental importance not only for farmers, however, but also for the winemaker itself, since the wines it produces serve to enhance the wine region’s reputation.
The winery also supports growers with advice, having completed and made available to producers a four-volume viticultural guide containing vine-growing tips for attaining high quality yields.
Contracted partners also receive assistance in exploiting the given land in the most efficient manner. By means of a special geographic information system (GIS), developed when assessing the growing potential of vineyards, the winery may make recommendations to producers for determining the cultivation goals of specific plots of land. Further information on the system can be found under the Vineyard potential menu item.
The Grand Tokaj winery boasts the largest cellar in the Tokaj Wine Region and East-Central Europe as a whole. The winery built the cellar into the Hatalos Hill on the edge of the villages of Szegi and Szegilong more than a quarter of a century ago, converting a series of 400-year-old rock mines. The five kilometre-long, two-storey cellar system interlinks four underground rockdust mines.
The vast cellar system is used for the storage and maturing of wines, its temperature providing excellent conditions for maturing Aszú and Szamorodni wines in wooden barrels. The cellars can accommodate several thousand such barrels.
One of the largest separate units is the five-aisle Tarsovits Hall, which provides an optimum environment for maturing 1,500–2,000 hectolitres of wine. On the cellar’s upper level, six parallel sections branching off from the main passageway linking the rockdust mines have been set aside for the display of vintage wines. Here wines of the best vintages from the 1920s onwards are stored.
Three tasting rooms are available for visitors to the cellars depending on the size of the group.
During their visit, guests at the Szegi Cellar have the chance not only to familiarise themselves with the extraordinary cellar system, but also to taste the winery’s outstanding range of wines. By preliminary agreement, wine snacks and hot dishes may also be ordered according to needs.
If you would like to visit the cellars or to take part in a wine tasting, please contact our responsible colleague at the winery!