Petra and Kata Zsirai epitomise this fresh approach. They are two sisters who own and manage Zsirai, a small family winery with just 19ha. Petra was only 23 years old when she took over the family company, at an age when most young people are still finding their feet in the world of work. Her younger sister Kata originally studied economics, graduating in 2012, though a side qualification as a sommelier suggested a fledgling interest in wine. She joined her sister as the family winemaker in 2013 and began to study winemaking more formally at university. She graduated in oenology in 2019, a journey clearly visible in the increasingly assured quality of Zsirai’s wines.
The heart of Zsirai lies in Tokaj, especially the village of Mád, where Kata is in love with the diversity of the region. Her hands are on every step of the journey of her wines and she explains, ‘Every vintage is different, every vineyard has special characteristics and this, along with our local grape varieties, allows us space to make wines with a hint of creativity.’
Zsirai also owns small plots in two other top regions: Somló and Villány, and in all three locations, local grapes are the focus. Kata has a particular passion for Hárslevelű which covers 30% of their vineyards, including the first-class cru (dűlő in Hungarian) sites of Szent Tamás and Betsek, where she firmly believes the terroir gives great depth and structure whatever the grape. Of her winemaking style she says, ‘We always use barrels, we ferment the wines spontaneously in oak and age for at least 6 months.’ Zsirai is moving towards more sustainable production and currently a quarter of their vineyards are cultivated organically, but the objective is to be 100% organic within the next three years.
Both sisters want to communicate a more youthful message, while preserving the historic traditions and values of Tokaj. As Kata explains, ‘Being a young winemaker myself, I have always felt that it’s important to get my friends to discover the world of wines. My generation is looking for things with values, they are open to trying and learning. Hanging out with them and telling the story behind each wine is the best way to convert them to wine lovers.’ Kata pretty much lives, breathes and dreams Tokaj, and is a founding member of the Tokaj Generation Y group of young winemakers who share ideas and taste together.
From the fruity freshness of Zsirai estate wines to the elegant, layered complexity and vibrancy of the single vineyard selections, and gorgeous sweet wines, all Kata aims to do is, in her words, ‘Make wines that represent the wonder of Tokaj and our objective at Zsirai is to bring this miracle to more and more consumers.’