Just above Csopak, on the road towards Arács is where you can find the winery of the Söptei family. You cannot get a glimpse of the place from the road, but if you fight your way through different signs and a parking lot, your search will be generously rewarded thanks to the excellent dishes and wines. We were lucky enough to be hosted by Zsolt Söptei himself, with whom we discussed family, wines, and gastronomy during an outstanding lunch.
The story of the Söptei family known to us started in the 1850s, when the great-great-grandfather János Söptei moved to Nemespécsely, known today as Pécsely. He was the first of the family to have dealt in grapes and wine at Lake Balaton. The tradition continued for 4 generations, until the father of Zsolt Söptei purchased the current family estate in Arács in 1972.
The real change arrived in 1994, when the estate was expanded to the east, and the family decided for the concept that works perfectly today: to complement the vineyard and winery with a restaurant. The idea was finally carried out in 1998 and its original goal was to plough back the resulting profit into winery-related developments.
At the beginning, they only considered cold buffet catering, but then - learning from the example of the neighbours - decided to skip this step and started out with hot dishes. By today, the idea has paid off: the siblings possessed the necessary skills, so everything was given for the enterprise to evolve into what it is now.
The basic concept they have followed all along was to only serve food to customers that they would also willing to eat - they haven't been considering anything fancy. As Zsolt Söptei puts it, 'If a guest looks at the menu and thinks that one item is something, they will get that something.' They did it: the winery complements the variety of the Balaton perfectly with fitting quality cuisine, of which wine is a crucial part.
The refusal to overcomplicate anything is clearly apparent from the fact that they don't want to recommend wines to the dishes.Although this might sound strange, but the family believes in guests deciding what they'd like to drink, overruling the recommendations of gastronomy. Here, they won't make you feel alien if you'd prefer to accompany a dish with a red wine when traditionally everyone would recommend white.
Of course, you cannot completely miss the cushion with any of your choices: it is worthwhile to try different types of wine, but be sure not to miss out on the Welschriesling fröccs.
The one responsible for the meals is the brother of Zsolt, Róbert Söptei, who - similarly to the other family members - is an autodidact, having learnt the trade on his own. This resulted in an especially attractive menu, which blends the Hungarian line with traditional restaurant dishes - and the view of the Balaton is the icing on it all.
We were treated to a vegetable stew which arrived with grilled vegetables and fresh bread of the house - and this combination proved completely filling. Zsolt explained that the foie de gras paté was especially popular. This has been on the menu since the beginnings, and is still prepared on the basis of their grandmother's recipe.
Although the enterprise is handed down from father to son, and the next generation is already here, the parents do not push the kids to follow their footsteps. There are, however, enough impressions that are likely to make them do so.