NEW WINE ACT ALLOWS LINKING APPELLATION CONTROL TO ELEVATION

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'The Wine Communities in charge of managing the Tokaj designation of origin may create regulations distinguishing hillside vinyards from those lying on flatlands' says Paragraph 2 of the Tokaj chapter of the new Wine Act, passed by the Parliament of Hungary yesterday. This addition is actually a revival of an old rule that was first included in the wine act in 1908, then to enact the centuries-old experience, namely that the best quality grapes had always come from the hillsides in Tokaj. It should, however, be noted that while this was the law until 1970, the newly-adopted Act only gives the Tokaj Wine Communities, which are the local bodies of wine-growers' self-governance (see detailed explanation below), an option to introduce regional regulations to make a similar distinction. It is a matter of course that this will involve multiple challenges today. Historically, most grapes were grown on high-lying vineyards in Tokaj anyway, so the rule prohibiting even the blending of 'hillside wines' with 'flatland wines' for the Tokaj appellation was unlikely to be a source of conflict, which is confirmed by the fact that none of the historical wine acts took the trouble of clearly defining hillside vineyards as opposed to flatland ones. However, lots of low-lying, flat sites were planted with vines during the decades of mindless mass production from the 1950s to the late 1980s, so low-lying sites account for a larger proportion of Tokaj vineyards today. Introduction of such a regulation in modern Tokaj will certainly require a clear definition that is expected to be based on elevation above sea level, rather than on angle of slope, because there are plenty of even first-class vineyards that lie high on plateau-like areas. The idea is that wherever such a delimitation made, wines that are made from low-lying sites could not be released labelled as Tokaj PDO, but only as Zemplén PGI wines or below. This would not apply to wines made from vines already planted in such sites, but only after such sites have been replanted. It remains to be seen whether any of the eight Wine Communities that cover Tokaj's 27 towns and villages will make use of this option.

The above is of course only one of the many amendments, though definitely the most interesting one, relating to Tokaj, the other ones mostly concerning the control of sales of bulk wine from within the region with a view to preventing non-Tokaj-based businesses releasing very cheap Tokaj PDO wines to the market that are detrimental to the reputation of Tokaji as a high-end product.

The modern system of Wine Communities was established in the 19th century as a form of self-governance for grape growers and winemakers in any wine region of Hungary. Wine Communities have administrative responsibilities to ensure traceability and quality assurance of grape and wine in their region, as well as advocating the interests of regional growers towards external organisations. All those growing wine grapes in an area larger than 1000 square metres [11,000 sq ft]  or wine grapes for sale in an area of any size or making wine for sale have to be members of a Wine Community [hegyközség in HU] in Hungary.

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