The historical roots of the Tokaj Wine Region
“The king of wines, the wine of the kings”
This deservedly famous quote describing Tokaji Aszú was spoken by Louis XIV, which in itself indicates the centuries of Tokaj Wine Region history. Indeed, early written references prove that grapes were already being cultivated here by the 11th century, and thanks to continual development, Tokaj is recognised as one of the world’s most famous wine regions.
The wine region started as the royal estates populated by those in service of the monarch. Parliament of Coloman the Bookish sat in Tarcal in the late-11th century. The first royal-owned wine cellar mentioned was in Tarcal.
In 1187 Béla III founded the Hospitaller Order of St John (Order of Malta) in the Tokaj region, in what is today Szent Kereszt-dűlő (literally Holy Cross Vineyard). The king gifted significant estates and vineyards to the Order which built a monastery dedicated to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Written sources testify to Tokaj grape cultivation traditions existing in the . Large-scale Walloon settlement took place from the 13th century, both before and after the Mongol invasions in 1241-1242 and 1282. The construction of the particular underground cellars started at this time, also substantiated by documents. They mention cellars (in Olaszliszka, Sárospatak, Szerencs, Sátoraljaújhely and Tolcsva) and vineyards (Liszka - Előhegy, Szerencs - Előhegy, Királyhegy, Magita, Makramál, Megyer, Meszes, Rány, Sátorhegy). The Sátoraljaújhely Order of Paul Monastery of St Giles founded in 1248 was to become the largest vineyard owner in the wine region during the Middle Ages. The first mention of Mézesmál vineyard on the border of Tarcal and Tokaj was in reference to an ecclesiastical matter. Sárospatak became a manorial centre of the royal estates at this time. It was also declared a town with privileges, a market town, as was nearby Sátoraljaújhely.
Construction of the underground cellars continued in the 14th century. Their number grew significantly, and the several-level cellar labyrinths typical of the Tokaj Wine Region were created. Thanks to grape cultivation the local settlements start developing significantly, and due to the income flowing in from winemaking, they paid significant taxes to the pope in Rome. All of these villages were church settlements. That is they had a parish church and vineyards with privileges. The first mention of Tokaji wine is in a court case dated 1381. Foundation of the Tokaj-Tállya castle estate.
During the 15th century intensive economic development continued in the wine region. It was the time Abaújszántó, Erdőbénye, Mád, Olaszliszka, Szerencs, Tállya, Tarcal, Tokaj and Tolcsva were declared winemaking market towns. This involved significant documentation and local council. In the second half of the century the Upper Hungary cities of Bártfa and Kassa (today Bardejov and Košice, Slovakia) started to become large vineyard owners around Olaszliszka, Mád, Sátoraljaújhely and Tállya. Sárospatak was made a royal free city.
The popularity of Tokaji wine continued to grow. At the time two types of wines were made. The first, “tiszta bor” (lit. clean wine), by treading grapes; the second, “préselt bor” (lit. pressed wine), by pressing. Vineyard owners living in market towns increased their estates, and several impressive noble estates developed. A golden era of the Tokaj Wine Region.
1550-1560: The main breakthrough of Tokaji wines onto the Hungarian and international markets. Quality improved greatly. Polish merchants appeared in the wine region. The Austrian imperial court bought Tokaji wines from the mid-16th century onwards – for generations.
1561: “Regulamentum Culturae Vinearum”: regulation of grape cultivation in the Tokaj Wine Region.
1565: Mezőzombor appears as a wine-producing market town in a census.
1571: The first mention of Aszúbor (Aszú wine) in a Garay family inheritance inventory dated 15 May.
1589: Good quality Tokaji wine, made without grape selection, is called “főbor” (main wine).
1590: Fabricius Balázs Szikszay’s work Nomenclatura contains the expressions “Vinum passum-aszu szeőleő bor” (Vinum passum - aszú grape wine), and “vinum primum” – feőbor (Vinum passum - main wine) (which later became Szamorodni).
The Tokaj name continues to spread on the wine market. Almost one third of wine production was exported. Polish and Russian export grew continually, gradually becoming determinant in the life of the wine region.
1616-1660: The Rákóczi period. During this time grape production gained the image it still has today. The most flourishing period. The ruling prince Rákóczi had several large cellars and mansions built around the region.
1641: Handbook of regulations for the Tokaj Wine Region.
1655: Parliament passed a law governing aszú berry selection at harvest.
French king Louis XIV said of Aszú wine he received from Francis II Rákóczi: “C’est le roi des vins, et le vin des rois” – “The king of wines, the wine of kings”. The area became known as Tokaj-Hegyalja (lit. Tokaj Foothills), and for easy understanding the wine was called Tokaji wine.
1707: The state apparatus of the Rákóczi War of Independence ordered national certification for Hungarian wine regions. The lands were classed in five groups, and the Tokaj Wine Region was classed as First Growth. The time when the role of the vineyard in quality and trade became recognised.
1720: János Matolai created the classification of vineyards in the Tokaj Wine Region. The vineyard grouping was based on terroir aspects as well as crops and their quality.
1723: Legal regulation for grape and wine production in Tokaj.
1729: New legal regulation of Tokaj grape and wine production.
1733-1798: Russian wine purchasing committee ensured supply of Tokaji wine to the czar’s court.
1737: Tokaj was declared an appellation, a delimited wine region with borders. This was the foundation for the first protection of origin in the world. Thus, the first regulation of designation of origin was established in Europe and the world.
1741: More regulation of Tokaji grape and wine production.
1749: Queen Maria Theresa ordered the former Bercsényi and Rákóczi families’ vineyard estates in Sárazsadány, Tarcal, Tokaj and Tolcsva to be included in the Royal Crown Estates. The centre in Tarcal was the former Zeleméry-Lorántffy-Rákóczi mansion (today Tokaj Research Institute). In the same year the crown-owned vineyards of Szarvas, Mézes-Mály, (today Tokaji) Teleki and Terézia were restructured and combined.
1759: The first mention of Máslás in various documents.
1815: A Krakow merchant’s document features the Polish word Szamorodni (meaning ‘as it grew’, ‘as it was born’, ‘born of itself’). From then on, the old-fashioned term főbor becomes less used.
1826: First surviving reference to Fordítás (“Másodaszú” – ‘second Aszú’).
1853: The joint-stock company Hegyaljai Részvénytársaság was founded in Mád to represent the interests of the Tokaji wine market.
1857: The body Tokaj-hegyaljai Bormívelő Egyesülét (Tokaj Winemakers’ Society) was founded, primarily as a grape and wine production association and representative.
1872: The Állami Felső Népiskola és Vincellérképezde (State Upper School and Vintner College) was established in Tarcal.
1886: Phylloxera appeared and destroyed over 80 % of the region’s vineyards in under 10 years. The first international law case in which Tokaj producers managed to protect the Tokaji name in court.
1893: First Hungarian wine law was passed, in which a separate chapter was devoted to regulation of Tokaj designation of origin.
1898: Further regulation of the wine region is passed.
1920: The Treaty of Trianon peace treaty changed the national borders of Hungary, so the villages of Szőlőske and Kistoronya (today Viničky and Malá Tŕňa) and part of Sátoraljaújhely and its vineyards were drawn in Slovakia.
1920-1950: Tokaji Aszú featured as a medicine in the pharmacopeia.
1928: Foundation of Tokaj Council of Wine Communities (Tokaj-hegyaljai Hegyközségi Tanács).
1936: The process of Aszú winemaking was specified by law.
1949: The research institute was founded in Tarcal.
1950: The role played by the Tarcal college was taken over by the Sátoraljaújhely Viticulture and Viniculture Vocational School, later Technical College.
1950-1990: Several state estates and state wineries were joined to create the state wine company Tokaj-hegyaljai Állami Gazdasági Borkombinát. The state winery bought grapes from small producers and organised production and sales.
1970: International registration of the Tokaj designation of origin in the Lisbon Agreement.
1982: Creation of classification of grape production areas and a mapping system in Hungary and in the Tokaj Wine Region.
1990: Privatisation began in the region.
1993: The European Community and the Republic of Hungary signed an agreement on mutual protection and control (23 November 1993 decree) including mutual protection of designation of origin, including the exclusive use in Hungary of the name “Tokaj” and forms thereof (e.g. Tokaji), as well as protection of the name “Tokaj” in connection with wines bearing Tokay and Tocai in Alsace and Venezia-Friuli-Giulia, with a moratorium until 31 March 2007.
2002: The Tokaj Wine Region was inscribed as a World Heritage cultural landscape by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
2004: The wine law allows the name Aszú to be used exclusively in the Tokaj Wine Region. The Hungarian name of the wine region was changed from Tokaj-hegyaljai borvidék to Tokaji borvidék.