Monday, November 7, 2011

Expanding his Empire: Winemaker Josef Bock in Villany, Hungary

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Josef Bock in Villany

Josef Bock is one of Hungary’s two dozens or so winemakers who have achieved international recognition. Another one is Attila Gere, both in Villany. Both have seen a phenomenal growth in the operations over the past decades.

I visited the Villany wine region during the summer of 2011 and focused on 3 winemakers: Josef Bock, Attila Gere and Erhard and Evelyne Heumann. At Josef Bock, a major expansion of the Bock Winery and the Bock Hotel was going on. I have already written about Dining and Wining at the Josef Bock Winery Restaurant in Villany, Hungary.


The wine region of Villany has about 2.100 hectar under vine on the hills of Villány and Siklós. In Siklós (where the Heumann Estate is based) white wine grapes prevail, while in Villány (where the Joseph Bock Estate and Attila Gere Estate are based) red grapes dominate. Traditionally, the Kadarka, Kékoprtó and Kékfrankos (Blaufrankisch) varieties are common to the area. Following the phylloxera pest, French varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were also planted.

Under the Turkish occupation, Villány was completely destroyed. When the Danube Swabians came, they brought with them the Kékoportó and other grapes. During the communist era the fine wine of Villány basically disappeared. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the family-owned wineries re-emerged. These, with Joseph Bock and Attila Gere leading the way, have succeeded in making Villány wines famous again.

Picture: Villany

Villany is a picturesque little town, with cute little wine cellars located on the main street next to each other. They are open for tasting, but I did not have an opportunity to check them out. Some winemakers, like Joseph Bock and Attila Gere, have expanded rapidly in recent years and now offer in addition to their wines first class cuisine and luxury accommodation.

Josef Bock

Josef Bock did not speak English, but I could converse with him (and with Attila Gere) in German, because they belong to the so-called Danube Swabians. The Danube Swabians are Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans whose ancestors had moved from Swabia to the former Kingdom of Hungary and settled there, especially along side the Danube River valley. A first wave came in the 12th century and a second wave in the 17th – 18th, after the war between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire had depopulated much of the country. Between 1740 and 1790, more than 100,000 Germans immigrated to the Kingdom of Hungary.

The Josef Bock forefathers, as part of their farming activities, always made wine. But up to the death of Josef Bock’s father in 1981, the Bock family vineyard area never exceed 2 hectares. When Josef took over the 2 hectares of vineyard land, he was not was not really into wine making. He had gone to a technical college and had a job as a technician. With the death of his father, things changed and Joseph Bock started to get involved with wine – albeit on a limit basis for a couple of year. However, the success of his wines and the rapidly increasing demand pulled him into becoming a full-time winemaker in 1991. In 1987, he had started to bottle his wines and sell them directly to restaurants and hotels in the area. As a next big advance, in 1992 he entered the Budapest market and also started to export in that year. Concurrently, a modern winery was constructed in 1994 to 1996 (and later expanded during several phases). Until 1994, the wine was produced at the Jammertal Cellar, which I did not have a chance to visit. The Bock family has owned the Jammertal Cellar since 1850, although the cellar had been expropriated for about 10 years in the 1940s. Today, the cellar is used for storage only, with a capacity of 400 hl. Soon Joseph Bock was named – in 1997 – Hungary’s winemaker of the year and became known in the international wine scene.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Bock Restaurant Sommelier Tamas Robert

Over the years, Josef Bock has build up a little empire, which he is currently expanding. Today, the Bock empire in Villany comprises the Bock Winery, producing 600.000 bottles of wine, of which 15% is exported, the Bock Hotel and the Bock Restaurant. Josef Bock is a family owned and run enterprise, with his wife Valeria, his daughter Patricia (management), his son Valér (winery) and his son-in-law Gábor Béni (winery) part of the Bock team.

Josef Bock Winery (Bock Pince)

The vineyard area has increased from initially 2 hectares to 75 hectares today. In addition, Joseph Bock buys fruit from other vintners, with the share of fruit bought from others approaching 40 percent of total input. The number of barrique barrels stands at 1500 currently.

Pictures: Josef Bock Winery (Bock Pince)

Current Expansion

When I was there, the winery and the hotel were undergoing another major expansion. At the end of it, a new, impressive wine cellar, which is 100 meter long, will be added to Bock’s aging and storage capacity.

Picture: Bock Winery Expansion Project

Josef Bock Hotel in Villany

We did not stay at the Hotel as we stayed with Erhard and Evelyne Heumann. I glanced at the nice indoor pool area.

Picture: Josef Bock Hotel Indoor Pool

Current Expansion

As part of the expansion, the room capacity will increase to 30 rooms.

Picture: Josef Bock Hotel Expansion Project

Winery Restaurant in Villany (Bock Etterem)

We had a wonderful meal cum wine tasting at the Bock Winery restaurant, which has a big terrace outside the winery. We had a 3-course dinner and went through 7 wines by the glass.

In German, Bock means goat; so the symbol of the winery is a goat head, which you can find in all Bock wine labels. 95% of Bock wines are red wines. About 30% of the wines are aged in oak. Bock wines tend to be powerful, rich, "brawny" wines that should not be drunk too young. Villány’s signature grape, the Portugieser, is grown in large quantities by Joseph Bock. Other varieties, like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are also grown. The premium wines include the flagship „Magnifico“ (Merlot) as well as the blends „Bock Cuvée“ and „Capella“ (both Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot), all of which are matured in new barriques for 24 months, Blaufränkisch Selection (14 months in barrique), as well as Chardonnay (8 months in barrique).

Pictures: Wining and Dining at the Josef Bock Restaurant in Villany

Bock Bistro in Budapest

We had our first encounter with Joseph Bock food and wines at the Bock Bistro in Budapest, which is one of the best restaurants in Budapest. Bock Bistro is also a wine shop, where you can buy Joseph Bock and other Hungarian wines. We had a small cheese plate with a glass of wine, to finish the evening, after a wine bar tour in Budapest and dinner at Klassz Bistro at 41 Andrassy u. Bock Bistro serves about 60 Hungarian wines by the glass, of which 15 Bock wines, 15 wines from Tokaji and 30 wines from other Hungarian producers.

Pictures: Bock Bistro in Budapest

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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

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Visiting Erhard and Evelyne Heumann and their Heumann Wines in Villany in Hungary

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