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Sopron Wine District

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Sopron Wine District

The sub-Alpine Sopron district occupies the slopes of the eponymous range and the southern and western perimeter of Lake Fertő (or the Neusiedlersee, as it is known in neighboring Austria which shares it with Hungary) as the direct continuation of the wine-growing area of the Leytha Hills and Neusiedlersee-Rust. The northern, perhaps better, part of the district stretches between the villages of Fertőrákos and Balf, where the vineyards slope toward the Lake. The other subdivision is situated east of the city of Sopron and demarcated from the east by the village of Fertőszentmiklós. Vineyards are also cultivated south of the city, alongside the road leading to the village of Harka.

The total potential growing area in Sopron is 4287 ha, including 3236 ha first class sites, although only a portion (1892 ha) of this area is actually planted. Until recently, the district had comprised the first and second class sites around the communes of Fertőboz, Fertőendréd, Fertőrákos, Fertőszentmiklós, Fertőszéplak, Harka, Hidegség, Kópháza, and Sopron within Győr-Moson-Sopron County. A few years ago, the vineyards around the communes of Kőszeg, Csepreg and Vaskeresztes were added to the appellation.

The tempered continental climate is free from extremities, although the sub-alpine influence results in lower median temperatures and higher rainfall than the national average. The summer is cooler and wetter than anywhere else in the country, but the winters are beneficially mild. Gusty winds are fairly common throughout. As the old local adage goes, "In Sopron, it's either raining or windy, or else the bells are ringing."

The metamorphic crystalline gneiss and mica schist that make up the Sopron Mountains formed during the Paleozoic. These old formations are overlain by Miocene gravel, shale, limestone, sandstone, and coal seams, all covered by a stratum of Quaternary loess. The weathered Sarmatian and Pannonian debris, limestone and loess evolved clayey loess and brown earth soils, as well as loose Pleistocene sands. The ranker is a soil variety that typically develops over crystalline schist bedrock.

One cannot talk about Sopron's style without making reference to the green, unripe, foursquare reds that ruled the scene until quite recently. One would be hard put to explain these low standards by anything other than the fact that the tourists looked for a wine bargain rather than quality. Then came the great transformation, with Austrian investors including Weninger and Pfneiszl taking the lead. These days, Sopron produces very well-drinking reds that complete malolactic fermentation despite the cool climate, as well as a few truly memorable wines, which often turn out to be blends of merlot and syrah.

The all-important geographical feature of the district is undoubtedly Lake Fertő. The finest vineyards occupy the south-facing slopes "north of the road," as locals say.

Sopron is clearly kékfrankos territory, with 1136 ha of the total area of 1533 ha under vines devoted to the grape. The remaining acreage is dominated by other black grapes.

Sopron is one of the few wine districts in Hungary where growers have apparently found a common ground. Kékfrankos is never missing from anybody's selection, and often claims pride of place in the cellar. The grape serves as a point of reference for the customer, enabling meaningful comparisons between styles and quality standards as represented by the district's wineries.

Among the runners-up are zweigelt (140 ha), cabernet sauvignon (120 ha), and merlot (75 ha). Yet one cannot form a true picture of the district's reds without taking into consideration syrah and pinot noir, of which there is very little but all the more remarkable in quality.

A mere 15% of approved sites in Sopron are devoted to white grapes, which is all the more interesting because these grapes had been the district's staple before the phylloxera epidemic at the end of the 19th century. Nowadays, the most popular white — probably owing to the proximity of Burgenland in neighboring Austria — is zöldveltelini (91 ha), followed by chardonnay (46 ha), and a dead heat between tramini and zenit (kb. 20 ha).

The most attractive relics of Sopron's past as a white wine region are its sweet late harvest wines. In light of the fame that nearby Rust has attained with its botrytis wines, it is hardly surprising that, in suitable years, the noble rot can raise its head on the shores of Lake Fertő as well.

The international wine world watches with mounting interest as organic and biodynamic methods gain ground in vineyards and cellars around the world. In Sopron, these approaches were first adopted by wineries we regard as being prominently responsible for the quality revolution in the district. Pfneiszl has been using ecological farming techniques since 2006, while Weninger switched to the biodynamic method in 2002.

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