Skeptics asked the owners of Zelna Winery, Lilla Lukács and her husband Barna Barabás, why they would open a wine terrace in May when there aren’t any people around. Their answer was: “So that they would come! If we aren’t open, they won’t come.” So they took a deep breath, and look at that. They also didn’t listen to the voices that discouraged the usage of Zweigelt variety: and yet the red they made from it is their most successful item to date.
Like the best stories usually do, Zelna Winery's also started with love: Lilla and Barna first saw each other in a folk dance group in 2005. That first glimpse was followed by marriage a few years later. 2014 didn’t only mark the beginning of their life together, but it was also the year in which they opened Zelna Winery. They have 8 hectares of vineyards, and the other, recently planted 6 hectares will bear fruit in a few years. They don’t want more than that.
They are still so young: Lilla is 29, Barna is 33 years old, but they barely look older than 20. Barna is a trained viticulturist and winemaker (before that he studied as a landscape gardener), and managed his own landscaping company in Budapest, while Lilla was working at an agency after studying communication and marketing.
This all sounds great, yet the future didn’t seem reassuring to them. “We felt that we wanted to move. We felt the daily grind, we hesitated, and we felt that something wasn’t quite all right with the way we lived. We wanted to live in nature, in the countryside, surrounded by vineyards” says Lilla over a glass of syrup – they will make it from their own lavender next year. They have ties to Balatonfüred: as Lilla’s grandfather had a vineyard here, they used to come here a lot and Barna used to help him out. The grandfather gave the boost with the question: why not get into wine-making if that’s what they want?
They both worked in Budapest during the first year. However tired they were, they sat in the car after work on Fridays, and they spent every weekend at the vineyard after January 2. Yet they made no progress, so they decided that they will gradually leave their life in Budapest behind. “We had the support of our family – that’s how the processor was also built – but they didn’t really believe that we could actually make our plans happen. During the first year they were like sure, do it, you’ll sell the grape anyway. Barna and I told them that we wouldn’t. We worked so much with it that we wanted to be the ones to process it.”
They didn’t have a roof over their heads when the crates full with grapes from the first vintage arrived, and they had other difficulties as well. 2014 was a hard vintage: there were two hailstorms, it rained a lot during harvest, there were restrictions, and the grapes they received weren’t in perfect condition either. They produced a minimal amount, and they thought that if it isn’t good, they’d rather not have their debut: “because nothing is worse than launching your winery with a wine that doesn’t have the right quality”. Fortunately, the wine turned out to be good, and they were encouraged that if the first vintage was so good, the rest will be even better.
It’s one thing imagining what rural life is like while still living in the capital, but when the summer and weekend experiences become everyday life, now that's a different thing. There’s no getting away. “It was very hard mentally. It was hard to process when we had the first blow by nature in 2014. You can never be sure that things will work out the way you want them, even if you do everything you can. You just have to carry on, because this is how nature is.”
“The year we started Misi Figula checked up on us and asked if we were certain. There’s no way back. We said we are sure. We were constantly commuting; we spent half of our lives in the car. On the way home we looked at each other in the car, and were reassured that this was what we both wanted. Still, saying it out loud sounded very weighty.”
To find their name, Lilla went to the archives to learn more about the name of the slopes on which their vineyards are; she hoped to find the name of the old owners, maybe a good story. She dug deep, but barely found anything. Then, on the road from Balatonfüred to Budapest, they came up with the name, in which “ZE” refers to the family of Lilla’s grandfather, “L” to Lilla, and “NA” to Barna.
“You’re given 50-60 harvests in your life at best. We are lucky that we didn’t wait until we were 50 or 60 to start make our dreams a reality. We don’t have decades of experience and knowledge of the best qualities of each slope, so we can try something new every year, this way we learn and experience more.” They experiment more courageously having no well-known paths; they jump into something new more easily instead of stepping away because it wouldn’t work anyway. Their Zweigelt is the result of such a “jump”, and it ended up as a big success.
“Everyone tried to talk us out if it saying that we’re stupid, it’s lucky if Zweigelt gives good vintage once in a decade, it’s a waste of time. After this we only made one barrel of wine, which turned out so good that it was gone before we could bottle it up. We have much more freedom by doing things our way, but still, it’s hard, because we have to experience a lot of things firsthand.”
Road 71 doesn’t come here, but their terrace is easily accessible from Lapostelki Road, and is near the city centre. Bikers and hikers come here, and they even take guests from nearby hotels here by bus. At first it looks like a little booth from a wine festival, with its benches and people drinking wine in front of it. Lilla and Barna designed the cottage of the Wine Terrace and Vinoteca. They wanted it to have certain traditional features of Balaton folk architecture, while keeping it modern and elegant, a little different than the other brown, wooden houses you can see on the promenade at the annual Füred Wine Festival.
They wanted to have a wine terrace since they launched in 2014. They had the strength and the decision now. The goal is simple: to get people acquainted with grape and wine varieties, provide tastings – who would have thought that wine tasting isn’t an obvious opportunity in Balatonfüred? – and best of all, here they have time to talk to visitors as well.
Translated by Emma Póli