The world-renowned Hungarian company Törley Sparkling Wine Cellar Ltd. celebrates its 140th anniversary this year. Its Managing Director, Gábor Csekei tells Diplomacy&Trade about how they cherish the traditions established by the founder, József Törley at the end of the 19th century.
“The spirit of József Törley is still part of the company and its culture. He was an innovator who applied the most modern technologies of his time and introduced them to Hungary, both in the production of sparkling wine and in marketing, which was practically non-existent at the time,” the Managing Director highlights. József Törley used steam engines and built a cellar system that ventilated itself, simply taking advantage of temperature differences to ensure a constant temperature without any additional assistance. “He used trucks, which was not common at the time – we are talking about 1882 – and he built elevators and hoists to operate this three-level basement system. Uncommonly for the time, he realized that it was an art not only to produce sparkling wine, but also to sell it. He collaborated with artists to design counting slips and advertisements that were uncommon in Hungary during that period. We are very proud that this innovation has become part of our heritage, which we like to sum up as tradition and quality. We preserve what he created and what the previous generations, all of whom worked in Törley, created,” he adds.
The facility where the Törley bottle-fermented sparkling wines are made is still almost at the same place where József Törley founded the factory. The company is preparing for the 140th anniversary by producing limited edition, uniquely labeled products, going back in time a little bit, and, of course, they will have a special event to go with it.
Just like the region of Champagne
József Törley, who died 115 years ago, said that with great diligence and perseverance, he had managed to produce something far superior to the Champagne sparkling wines. "At the time, he came back to Hungary because he encountered a soil structure in the Etyek-Buda wine region that is typical of the Champagne wine region,” Gábor Csekei explains.
The production technology in making wine and sparkling wine has changed a lot over the past 140 years and progress continues to be made. The most recent example of this technological development is that Törley Sparkling Wine Cellar Ltd. bought a filtering machine that can filter sparkling wine under pressure. At the time of József Törley, it was a mystery how the fermentation process itself went through in each bottle of fermented sparkling wine, as no one could see inside the bottle. Now, there is a machine that can look at the individual bottle to see how much pressure is in it, and thus, staff can tell whether fermentation has taken place or not.
The Managing Director is proud that “we now ferment sparkling wine with four different technologies. First, there is the classic bottle fermentation technology (Méthode Traditionnelle). This has the peculiarity that the bottle in which the sparkling wine ferments is the one in which the consumer buys it. Then, there is transfer technology ('Méthode Transvasée'): there are special fermentation bottles in which the sparkling wine is fermented, but from which that sparkling wine is siphoned off into a bottle that the consumer will find on the shelf. In addition, there are two more technologies that are similar to each other: the tank fermentation technologies. One is where the sparkling wine is fermented from wine (Méthode Charmat), and there is another where it is fermented from must (Méthode Asti). What I see is that in recent years the Hungarian sparkling wine market is also developing more and more towards the premium segment, consumers are increasingly looking for higher value, bottle-fermented products. We see this in the development of the Törley and Hungaria product lines.”
Tradition and quality
Törley is a brand that practically everyone knows about in Hungary. This is partly the reason why the company is very proud that Törley sparkling wine has become a ‘Hungarikum’, a term used for products of typically Hungarian attribute, uniqueness, specialty and quality. Consumers associate Törley with values such as tradition and quality, as well as reliability, professionalism and elegance.
Gábor Csekei says “we are very happy when we hear these things back from consumers and we are particularly happy when we achieve very good results in international wine competitions. Last year, for example, we won gold medals at several contests of which I would like to mention two now. The company's top Törley sparkling wine, the bottle-fermented ‘Törley Chardonnay Brut’ received the Champion title, which means it was deemed the best of the gold medal winner sparkling wines at the Vinagora wine and sparkling wine competition. For the third year in a row, our Hungaria Rosé sparkling wine was among the top ten sparkling wines in the world at the French 'Effervescents du Monde' competition. I think this is a recognition that even József Törley would be proud of.”
Caring for the environment and the consumer
Törley Sparkling Wine Cellar Ltd. is also committed to sustainable development, environmental protection and the cultured consumption of alcohol. “Here at the Törley Museum, we receive a lot of guests, and we also meet a lot of guests and consumers at festivals. We always emphasize that moderation is one of the cornerstones of quality sparkling wine consumption.,” according to the Managing Director.
He adds that sustainability is a much bigger and much more complex story. “It is quite natural nowadays, after all, that in all our developments, we look at how we can be more energy efficient, how energy efficient the machines themselves are. We are always considering how we could switch to renewable energy in our development and how we could use it in full or in greater quantities. We also look at the packaging of our products in an environmentally conscious way, so, we work with our suppliers to use bottles that are as lightweight as possible, use packaging with as little plastic content as possible, and many of the cartons are now made from recycled paper.”
The company also stresses the need for sustainability in its cooperation with its retail partners. Gábor Csekei says he is very proud that two of their plants have wastewater pre-treatment systems. This means that Törley’s production is putting much less strain on the community's sewage treatment plants, because these plants discharge already purified water.
The Managing Director highlights that “our approximately 900 hectares of vineyards are the agricultural part of the company and here too we have in recent years been putting more and more emphasis on adding sustainability to the primary farming objective. Our aim is to achieve a livable environment in these areas that is not only good for the vines, good for the people who work there and visit them, but also good for the other flora and fauna that live there, in other words: for the environment. Our colleagues are committed to continually learn and implement new methods. So, there is not only pressure from outside, but also from within, to preserve the planet for our children. I am particularly pleased that anyone who visits our vineyards in Etyek can see an increasing bird population. So, it seems that the birds are getting more and more comfortable there, too. It's a very complex business how to manage the insects that feed the birds so that they don't damage the vines, but my colleagues have figured out the right way to do that, and we have increasingly populous bee-eater colonies. They are beautiful birds. On the vineyard side, we planted a vineyard three years ago, which is now being farmed organically. That's roughly ten hectares of vines, our first experiment, and we're very proud that we're now harvesting them so we can produce organic products.”
The Törley Sparkling Wine Cellar organizes guided tours for interested visitors. "We have built a visitor center that tells the history of the Törley company from József Törley to the present day. After visiting this center, people typically take a cellar tour, walking through at least two floors of the cellar system. Here we explain how the sparkling wine itself is produced. Guests can find out what the characteristics of the tasted sparkling wines are, how they are produced, what flavors can be highlighted. It's becoming more and more popular, the number of people coming to us is increasing, which I'm very happy about because I believe that personal relationships really build the brand,” Gábor Csekei points out.
Successful in Hungary and abroad
In terms of the company's international activities, he is also proud of the fact the company has good market positions not only in Hungary, but also in Europe and beyond. “We sell roughly one third of our sparkling wine production and more than half of our wines on foreign markets. What we are particularly proud of is that in Estonia – a country with a population of one and a half million people – the similar amount of Törley sparkling wine is consumed per capita as here in Hungary, and we are of course the market leader in this respect there too. We are also very proud that in Quebec, a French-speaking province in Canada, we are market leader and sometimes second with our Hungaria sparkling wine. We, as a Hungarian sparkling wine brand, are delighted to be among the best in a French-speaking province. In general, you could say that, apart from Australia where we supply only rarely, we are present on every other continent.”
The Managing Director stresses that their goal is to continue to be a major player in the Hungarian market in the coming years and, if possible, to improve their position among sparkling wine producers. “We have also seen very good growth in our wine production in recent years and we will continue to work on this. As far as export markets are concerned, I must say that Hungary and Törley are a drop in the world market. So, our strategy is to achieve a significant position in two or three well-chosen markets. Of course, if there are requests from elsewhere, we are also happy to supply. In terms of production, in other words the technological part, the biggest development in the next few years will be the construction of a new grape processing plant in Etyek, based on the latest technology, so that we can try to make progress in that field too. We are confident that the quality impact will be felt by consumers,” he concludes.