Friday, October 28, 2011

Dinner with Frank Dietrich and Zsuzsanna Molnar from Blue Danube Wine Company - A Good Source for Quality Eastern and Central European Wines in the US

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Frank Dietrich in Palo Alto

Eastern and Central Europe is a fascinating region. A large part of it was long hidden for us in the West behind the Iron Curtain, including the outstanding wines these countries potentially produce.

Generally, Eastern European wine producing countries like Hungary and Croatia have a history of winemaking that is as long – if not longer – than that of France, Spain or Italy. Yet, to find fine wines from these countries outside their borders is not easy. This is due to a combination of factors. These countries were behind the Iron Curtain until 20 years ago and are only now emerging on the world market. During the communist period, the wine industry suffered and fell behind, while the rest of the world was moving ahead rapidly. They are now trying to catch up and are doing this with uneven success. Some countries are advancing rapidly, such as Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia, others are moving at a slower path. Anyway, these are all highly interesting wine countries and I am glad to see their wines entering the world market.

In the US, Blue Danube Wine Company, owned by the husband and wife team Frank Dietrich and Zsuzsanna Molnar, is one of the drivers of this process. I have been in contact with Frank Dietrich for a while and was happy to meet him in person and have dinner with him in Washington DC earlier this year. "Central Europe has a story to tell, and can tell it well - the history, varietals, techniques, and the fresh start post Communism and war make these kind of wines a lens to see a wine world still largely unknown in the US" said Frank.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Frank Dietrich in Washington DC

When Frank heard that I was coming over to the US West Coast, for Richard Wagner’s Ring der Nibelungen in San Francisco and wine tasting in Washington State, Oregon and California, he was so kind to invite my wife and me for dinner at his house in Palo Alto. Since we were scheduled to fly to Europe for a wedding in Vienna, followed by trip to Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia, we had even more to talk about.

Blue Danube Wine Company

The Blue Danube Wine Company was founded in 2002 to import fine Eastern and Central European wines to the U.S. market. The company focuses on wines that are fairly rare in the U.S.

Picture: Dinner with Frank and Szuzsanna

Today, Blue Danube Wine Company is an importer, distributer and retailer of Eastern and Central European wines. “We have three different price lists” said Frank. The Blue Danube Wine Company is an importer for the whole of the US of Eastern and Central European wines. In California, the Blue Danube Wine Company is a distributer with a focus on the San Francisco Bay area and the LA area. More generally, it distributes wines as a wholesaler to wine retailers, supermarkets, and better restaurants within California. Simultaneously, it continues to build a nation-wide network of distributors. Frank reported that they are just starting to set up shop in the New York market as a distributor. Finally, Blue Danube Wine Company is nation-wide on-line retailer.

Picture: Dinner with Frank and Zsuzsanna

Frank and Zsuzsanna have 3 partners who also have become owners of the company. “I believe in stock-options” said Frank. "I have seen all my working life how it works in the internet industry and I am continuing with this practice in my own company." The company is based in Los Altos, California 94023, USA.

Frank Dietrich and Zsuzsanna Molnar

Zsuzsanna was born in Budapest in Hungary and came over to Michigan as a young girl in 1956. She grew up in Hungarian speaking household. Frank and Zsuzsanna met at university. She was one of the first 50 students to be hired by the once internet giant Silicon Graphics. Frank and Zsuzsanna lived in Europe for a number of years, working for Silicon Graphics.

Picture: Dinner with Frank and Zsuzsanna

Before founding the company, Frank Dietrich and Zsuzsanna Molnar, worked for many years as executives in American computer and networking companies with responsibilities for developing the Central/Eastern European market. Born in Europe, speaking the languages, and understanding the business customs have provided them with tremendous assets to bring these unique wines and the people who make them to a broader market.

Picture: Google Headquarters in Palo Alto which we visited with Frank

My Recent Visits of (Blue Danube Company) Winemakers

Frank was so kind to help me arrange meetings with 2 winemakers in Hungary and 1winemaker in Slovenia. In addition, he pointed me to the Drop Shop Wine Bar in Budapest.

Attila Gere in Villany (Hungary)

Many feel – as I do - that the best Hungarian red wines come from Villany in the southern part of Hungary and that they can compete with fine Napa Valley or Bordeaux wines. Attila Gere is without doubt one of the stars of Villany. His winery is located in Villany, on the way to Siklos. The Gere family also owns a nice bistro, a fine dining restaurant and a luxury hotel.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Attila Gere

Frank brings his wines to the US. Frank was so kind to set up an appointment with Andrea Gere, the daughter of Attila Gere, in Villany. I also met Attila Gere during lunch at the Gere Wine Bar in Villany.

Franci Cvetko at Kogl Estate (Slovenia)

Franci Cvetko is arguably one of the best wine makers in the emerging wine country Slovenia, the most northern former Yugoslav Republic State. He owns and runs Kogl Estate in Velika Nedelja in the Prlekija wine region, in the eastern part of Slovenia.

Slovenia is the most advanced wine producer of the former Yugoslav Republic States, because it always had an open door to neighboring Italy and Austria. It was also the first of the former Yugoslav Republic States to emerge as an independent country and find stability. Slovenia is wedged between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia with a tiny, 40km of it touching the Adriatic Sea in the southwest corner. People have been growing wine in the region since Roman times.

The Kogl Estate is situated on a hill above the village of Velika Nedelja, with the vineyards surrounding the winery. The homestead on top of the hill was constructed in 1820 and initially served as a week-end residence. When you drive up the hill from Velika Nedelja to the Kogl Estete, you pass through the Kogl vineyards; they are surrounding the winery.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Franci Cvetko at Kogl Estate

We then had a wonderful lunch with delicious charcuterie, homemade pate and cheese, accompanied by 4 wines. The whole set-up was just stunning: the outstanding food, the very interesting conversation with Franci, Zlatka and son Luka, the breathtaking view of the landscape and the delicious Kogl wines!

Istvan Stephan Spiegelberg in Somlo (Hungary)

After having spent many years in the cities of Berlin and Munich in Germany, the German Hungarian Istvan Stephan Spiegelberg now lives the life of a boutique winemaker on the slopes of the Somlo Mountain in Hungary and produces outstanding wines there. Thanks to Frank, I had the pleasure to visit him, to have lunch with him and taste his superb wines.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Istvan Stephan Spiegelberg in Somlo

With 800 hectares, Somlo is one of the smaller wine regions of Hungary. Most of the vineyards are on the slopes of an almost symmetrical, cone-shaped, dormant volcano, crowned by the ruins of an 11th century castle, rising from the plains of the Tapolca Basin. It is a fascinating view when you approach the region.

Istvan Stephan Spiegelberg’s wines are not yet imported into the US.

Drop Shop Wine Bar in Budapest (Hungary)

Budapest has a number of interesting wine bars. One of them is the newly opened Drop Shop, located near the Margaret Bridge in District V. This is definitely one of the hot wine places in Budapest currently. Frank had recommended it to us.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Wink Lorch from WineTravelGuides, Brett Jones, known as The Wine Maestro and Carolyn Bánfalvi from Taste Hungary

When we went there, we run into Wink Lorch from WineTravelGuides and Brett Jones, known as The Wine Maestro, in the wine blogger scene. They had dinner there with Carolyn and Gábor Bánfalvi from Taste Hungary. Carolyn Bánfalvi is the author of the award-winning culinary guidebooks Food Wine Budapest and the Food and Wine Lover’s Guide to Hungary: With Budapest Restaurants and Trips to the Wine Country. We joint them later for drinks.

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Tokaji: Depressing and Encouraging News from Hungary

A Rich Selection of Hungarian Wines at the Hungarian Embassy in the US

Wine Bar: The Wine Bar by Bazilika, Budapest, Hungary

Blue Danube Wine Company - A Good Source for Quality Eastern and Central European Wines in the US

Dining and Wining at the Josef Bock Winery Restaurant in Villany, Hungary

The Wines of Istvan Stephan Spiegelberg in Somlo, Hungary

Drop Shop Wine Bar in Budapest, Hungary

Visiting Attila and Andrea Gere, and the Attila Gere Winery in Villany, Hungary

Meeting Hungarian Food and Wine Experts Carolyn and Gabor Banfalvi in Budapest, Hungary

Lunch with Franci Cvetko at his Kogl Winery in Slovenia

Welcome to the US – Erhard Heumann and his Heumann Wines from Villany-Siklos in Hungary

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