A tale of two Tokaj wineries
By Tom Philpott
There's something mysterious and elusive in a sip of well-made Tokaj, an effect echoed by the thick, gauzy fog that blanketed the area during a visit I paid to the J&J Ostrožovič vineyard in Veľká Tŕňa, a village of 100 or so frame houses and a church. On the village's outskirts lies its glory: fields planted with Furmint, Lipovina, and Yellow Muscat grapes, the ingredients for Tokaj's celebrated dessert wine.
While outside was serene and beautiful, inside the Ostrožovič winery was a modern and bustling tourist-ready production house. Amid handsome displays of the vineyard's wines, workers filled orders, prepared machinery, and monitored wine in various stages of production.
The operation is owned and run by a married couple, Jaroslav and Jaromíra Ostrožovič, who took it over in 1990. Mr. Ostrožovič, a large, robust man with an easy laugh, showed me the warehouse where the wine was made.
The room, high ceilinged, chilly, and workmanlike, had wooden vats that gave off the pungent odor of live yeast and fermenting grape juice. Workers milled around, checking gauges, as Mr. Ostrožovič explained how to make genuine Tokaj (see How Tokaj is made, page 104).
Next, we crossed the village to visit Ostrožovič's cellars, which are carved into the rocky, volcanic terrain. The cellars are clustered together on a hillside behind semicircular passageways 15 or 20 feet apart. Ostrožovič unlocked one of the doors, and a strong, musty smell burst out.
The ceiling, walls, and battered wooden barrels, were crawling with black, fuzzy fungus. The atmosphere was intensely humid: aging Tokaj requires between 80 and 95 percent humidity. Patches of the wall were literally dripping wet.
The relationship between the aging wine and the mold is symbiotic. Two percent of wine stored in the barrels is lost per year to evaporation, creating the right atmosphere for the fungus. "If we removed the wine, the mold would perish," Ostrožovič said. The mold, in turn, creates a wild aroma that passes through the porous barrels to add flavor to the wine.
J. & J. Ostrožovič Tokaj wine is available in stores throughout Slovakia, including Tesco supermarket in Bratislava.
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Galafruit's headquarters in Malá Tŕňa doesn't look like much. The company is housed in a squat, functionalist building on the edge of lovely vineyards. Don't be fooled, though. Wonderful wine is being made here.
Galafruit was founded in 1977 as a state-owned fruit grower, not a vineyard. "Back then, the state didn't have money to finance much wine production," says Pavel Eftimov, Galafruit's general manager.
Privatized in the mid-1990s, Galafruit then bought a former state-run Tokaj winery that had collapsed. The company owned 441 hectares of Tokaj vineyards, along with several traditional cellars
"We were the only company willing to buy the whole tract of land," Eftimov says. Galafruit was also the only company willing to keep on all its workers, who were experts in Tokaj production.
That's how Eftimov, director of a large-scale agribusiness, became manager of a boutique wine company.
Galafruit & Co. Malá Tŕňa 202 076 82 Slovensko Tel./fax: 056 679-3591
These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2004.
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