Barnabás Cseri – the man who grew into winemaking


The history of Cseri Winery (Cseri Pincészet) in the Pannonhalma wine district began just over ten years ago: the first hectare was planted in 2010 on the land purchased a few years prior; and today 80,000 bottles of wine a year are produced on 10 hectares.

At a size that still allows transparent processes, it’s a true family business where everyone has their role to play: the founder Norbert is responsible for the wines, his wife Eszter for the background work, and a member of the next generation, Auguszta, who is still studying, also sees her future role as a winemaker. Barnabás, the older brother, already has a wine to his name and, although he seems to have only been part of the winery for a few years, his involvement, even if not so consciously, started much earlier. We spoke to him about this and the role of Riesling in the Pannonhalma wine district.

- How did you get into this career? 

- I came by way of a detour, because originally I’ve been training to become a chef. I was still attending secondary school in Győr when I joined in with the work, after we planted our first hectare – and to tell the truth, I loved it. My mother had another job at the time and my father worked in the winery of Pannonhalma Abbey, so it was Friday afternoons and weekends that we worked at our vineyards. Growing up in the countryside, I always loved being out in nature, so this job was a good fit for me, so much so that I eventually started planning to go this way. I thought, however, that secondary school education was enough for me and I would have preferred an apprenticeship abroad, but my parents kept persuading me to go to college in Gyöngyös where I eventually graduated in viticulture and wine-making. I knew then that this was probably my calling.

- Did you start working straight away when you finished school?

- Even during my college days, I had this special schedule, spending three days a week at school in Gyöngyös and the other four at home working in the vineyards. We didn't even have machines then, we did everything by hand, and the vines needed a lot of manual work. I took the school’s compulsory apprenticeships after that, and then I spent six months at the Dr. Loosen winery in Germany. I’m able to utilise a lot of what I learnt there, especially since 80% of what they grow is Riesling, which is a very important grape variety for us as well.

- What’s your current role in the winery?

- My father, as the company manager, keeps an eye on everything, but I'm getting more and more freedom to do things myself. The vines are almost entirely my responsibility, both in terms of manual and mechanical work. The harvest dates are also pretty much set by me, although of course there is always some degree of supervision by dad. In addition, regarding winemaking, if there is a batch that’s closer to my skills, I’m allowed to work with it without much interference.

- What determines which is the most important grape variety for you?

-  We believe that every wine district should have a main grape variety, which of course does not exclude the possibility of producing other varieties, but there should be a main direction of focus. In our case, this was determined by my father, who saw at the Abbey that the Riesling is a good variety, it’s challenging but also has potential, so that’s what we planted first and foremost. What I see is that the Riesling is preferred by those who are currently starting to make wine in this wine district as well.

- Can we consider terroir characteristics with respect to the Riesling in the Pannonhalma wine district?

-  We work on a mostly sandy loess soil and we found that there are no significant differences from area to area, so we have a different method for sorting Riesling. We harvest from every area and prefer to pick based either on altitude or the vine’s condition, even if it means stopping several times in each row. We know our areas well enough by now to judge if the grapes will ripen in that particular vintage – and we use this knowledge to decide which of our wines will receive the raw material.

- The wine that bears your name is also made from Riesling. How did this batch come about?

-  The story of Barni's Riesling started when I tasted a wine of this style at my uncle's house abroad and wanted us to make some ourselves. I always thought that it was very exciting and that there was a market for it, despite the fact that this style is considered quite unusual in this country because of the extreme residual sugar content. There’s 12-14 grams of it in our wine depending on the vintage. One of the purposes of my trip to Germany was to learn how to make such a wine and know everything about the process required to do so. I came home in late spring of 2016, and I wanted to make my own wine in the autumn of the same year. I announced to my father, somewhat feverishly, that I would like to try making 500 litres; however, since we didn't have a refrigerated tank of that capacity, he said I should try for 1,000 litres. That amount was a lot for us at the time, so I had my worries about failure – but dad kept persuading me to go for the 1,000 litres. It was such a success in the end that now we produce seven times the amount and will soon be releasing our sixth vintage.

- What other types of Riesling are in your portfolio?

- Barni's Riesling, that is, our Secundus and Quartus batches are reductive, the cask ones start with the Sextus. We still try to make that one every year, although the quantity is not always enough for thousands of litres of wine. We only make the ones above that, Septimus and Octavus, in particularly good vintages, and the technology – spontaneous fermentation and cold settling – does not even allow us to work with less than perfect raw materials. We also have a sweet wine, Decimus, which was only made in 2017, as we are not always lucky enough with the weather to do a late harvest. Very few producers have such an assortment of Riesling in this country, and while we can't expect consumers to tell one from the other in the shops, it feels great when people at a tasting event seek us out specifically saying that they’re coming to us because we have lots of good Riesling to taste.