It started out as a hobby and ended up being a life goal. It took a wild night, a lot of tilling, and struggles to turn the bare area in Nivegy-völgy into an inviting estate. The young owners of Tagyon Estate are Zsuzsa Veres and her husband Attila Kartaly: she’s a born host, he’s a born entrepreneur. Zsuzsa manages Tagyon Estate, their shared dream and passion, with serious dedication.
We can reach Tagyon Estate, which is 19 kilometers away from Balatonfüred, through sinuous roads. Vineyards undulate around us in Nivegy-völgy (Nivegy Valley), and we see almond trees, wild flowers, and typical Balaton Uplands press houses: the view must have been the same a hundred years ago.
The story of Tagyon Estate started only a few years ago amid the rough night life of Budapest. After a wild night out, Attila thought that “this isn’t normal, he should leave some mark in the world.” One of Attila’s friends had a thatched holiday home near Tagyon, so he also looked for a land of 1-2 hectares, then he found 8 hectares of almond and peach trees, old vineyards, and a ruined press house. He, who spends his life with bargaining, didn’t even try this time: this was worth every penny for him.
Zsuzsa, Attila’s young, deft wife tells this story to us with shining eyes. They didn’t know each other back then. “In the first two years Attila and his friends only came here to party. Then I came into the picture, and something changed in Attila. He became calmer, he started to live differently.” They planted grapes, and that’s a responsibility, as it has to be cultivated.
Back then Zsuzsa was already seriously into wine. “It was a foggy, damp, cold day when I first visited here. Attila showed me that Lake Balaton is right there, but I couldn’t see any of it. But as soon as I set foot in here, I was lost, because I felt such energies here that I was carried away."
She was working in the hospitality industry for a long time, she loved Budapest, the buzzing, the parties. Then she felt like this wasn’t her world anymore, she wanted more. That’s how wine came into picture, she went to training, she worked in a wine shop. While her husband was tied to Budapest because of his job, she tilled from five in the morning. “I posted on Facebook that this is Tagyon Fitness Garden, and my mom called me asking if I was really tilling.” Drained by dawn on the fifth day, she was looking at her bloody palms through her tears. That’s when they hired workers to help.
One of them, when he saw Zsuzsa running around the vineyard, told her husband: “Attila, cultivating vineyards does not lead to a nice body. He got so scared that he told me, Zsuzsika, you won’t till again.” And she never touched a hoe ever since; she does many other things instead. She manages the estate and the winery, she sells, takes care of the vineyard, and raises two charming girls.
When she told everyone that she wanted to work with bio methods, and they won’t use anything else but sulfur and copper, they laughed at her. People told her husband “let the little girl be, she’ll outgrow it. It was incredibly humiliating. And they were right in the end, because I had no other choice. Not because organic vineyards are impossible to achieve, but because of people: they didn’t come in time to spray, to do the work.”
When working with a hydro-drill, there were only three people and they needed four. She was one of them, and she jumped from one place to the other. They didn’t spare her. “I was about to die. The driver of the tractor came to me afterwards and shook my hand. Wow. My work was appreciated.” Shortage of staff is a problem here, too, so there’s a chance that next time Zsuzsa will have to learn how to drive a tractor.
When we asked her about other difficulties, she said the following: “Not everything is turning out the way I wanted, but I knew my time would come. I don’t believe in luck; I believe in opportunities that you can seize at the right time.”
Zoli, or Zoltán Bakóczy, Zsuzsa’s best friend, is the former estate manager of Tagyon. Since Attila had to leave because of his job, Zsuzsa makes all the decisions. “Until September, Zoli is my right-hand and left-hand man, and also my brain. This isn’t a one-man show.” They have a winery, a small garden, accommodation, they sell wine, and this all would be too much for one person. The winery is Zsuzsa’s love, it does well, but it’s still up-and-coming.
They are focusing on their country-style wine bistro right now, which they named eReSZ (meaning “eaves”). They gave it a new design for the new season. Her partners for this are Andrea Stark and Attila Vancsó, who already proved themselves in Budapest and in Tagyon as well. The selection of the á la carte restaurant is seasonal, the vegetables come from their nearby garden.
The panko crumbs covered fried goat camembert with rhubarb and strawberry chutney (2,390 HUF) delivers a colorful array of spring flavors, and it shows that Andrea’s attention doesn’t skip any of the slightest details meaning that everything is in perfect harmony.
The rosé duck breast served with rose pepper sweet potato and rhubarb (3,290 HUF) is another good choice with a great balance of sweet and salty, soft and crunchy. The oven-baked goods are also inviting, and if there weren’t so many great courses on the menu, we would reorder them both. The final concept of the kitchen is still taking shape, but they told us that they would like to organize two or three course dinners with wine tastings.
Vali (the family's dog) accompanies us when we check out the cellar, the huge steel barrels of the winery, and the walnut garden behind the house. It will take years for these to get a large canopy. Zsuzsa and Attila really plans for the future. The guesthouse has spacious apartments, and from their terraces it feels like you could touch the clouds that swim above Lake Balaton.
„That field of white flowers among the vines shouldn’t be there” says Zsuzsa – they simply didn’t have the time to manage the land. We don’t mind, and she doesn’t either: “this is what the Spanish call pura vida (=literally means pure life, meaning that “all is well, all is beautiful” – Ed.), peace. It won’t harm the grapes. This is pura vida.”
They moved permanently away from Budapest last April. Their older daughter really likes the local nursery. “We used this as an excuse, because we were considering moving for a while, but we didn’t have the courage” says Zsuzsa. “They say, what are these people from Budapest want here? I’ve been struggling here for 30 years, then someone from Budapest comes to show off – I can understand them. We accept this, and we’re nice to everyone. We thinks it’s important to sell local products: we have the syrups of Judit Hoffmann, and our wine selection has the treasures of Nivegy Valley. We prefer local ingredients for our meals. The goat cheese comes from Bálint Szabó in Óbudavár. The ham and sausages are from our own pig slaughters. It’s an important goal of ours to get everything we can from local producers, from people we know and trust.”
Attila isn’t here, so we can’t ask him if this is what he meant when he wanted to leave a mark. Zsuzsa thinks that “whatever happens, this will leave a mark. Who knows what life will bring, but this house, this estate will be here. Everything is from iron, the blacksmith Laci Tarsoly made them in Nagyvázsony. Attila said he won’t buy fake things, he only builds a house once.” He also calls each new year "year zero", because there's always a new beginning.
Translated by Emma Póli