Bence Szilágyi is the one-man band behind Grand Vin de Barnag, a small winery located in Barnag, a village next to Lake Balaton in Hungary. Here, he farms rented vineyards organically himself, as well as buying organic grapes from a local farmer.
Since his first vintage in 2017 — when he made just 400 bottles — he has grown bit by bit every year, now producing 12,000 bottles. No bank loans, no investors: just Bence and bucketloads of passion for farming and making delicious, low intervention wine.
People: Bence Szilágyi
Place: Lake Balaton, Hungary
Varieties: Riesling, Furmint, Kékfrankos (the Hungarian name for Blaufränkisch), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon
Hectares: Bence farms between 2.5 and 3 hectares, and sources grapes from an additional circa. one hectare
Farming: Organic (own farming and sourced grapes)
Did You Know? Bence is particularly enamoured with whole bunch fermentation. He says,
"Whole bunch isn’t just whole bunch. You can add no juice, some juice, cover the bunches in juice, partially crush the bunches… that’s what I’ve mostly been into over these last couple of years. Kékfrankos is the only grape for which I think you need some ‘traditional’ skin contact — in order to get its full character — so that’s the only wine I destem the grapes for. All the rest are either direct-press or whole bunch, or a combination of both.”
In terms of farming methods, Bence takes organic farming and brings it to the next level. This isn’t just about ditching chemicals for organic alternatives, it’s also about having a more thoughtful mindset. He explains,
“We try to spray as little as possible (around four or five times) and try to limit the copper usage in particular. Within organics, of course, you have many ways of working. People can also spray 12 times. But for us, we take care of the vineyards by going in to remove leaves, or to select shoots, instead of spraying another time. That’s how we try to minimise it.”
He also works according to no-till, choosing not to work the soil at all — not even under the vines.
“In one vineyard we tried to use a cover crop, but the natural flora takes back more and more surface every year — we can see what kind of plants are growing more. We cut the grass if necessary, but we also try to limit that. With some of the vineyards, we have a feeling that we might need to move the soil under the vines, but for now we don’t do anything. For example, our Cabernet vineyard, which is the oldest and which has been farmed organically for 15 years now, we haven’t moved the soil for the past five years, and the growth is still really good and balanced. The only thing is that the yield is getting lower every year, so I think we might need some movement of the soil eventually. But for now, everything is covered by green. It’s a jungle!”
By allowing the surrounding plants to also grow and thrive, Bence ensures that his vineyards are at peak biodiversity. Although more wineries in Hungary are converting to organics (Attila Homonna estimated that there are now 20-30 wineries working organically), to see vineyards where the soil is unploughed — and hence entirely covered — is still rare. Bence says,