The wine world was deeply saddened to learn of the sudden and untimely death of Tibor Gál in a road accident in South Africa last week.
Undoubtedly one of Hungary’s most famous faces on the international wine scene, Gál was also a mover and shaker in his beloved homeland.
He was born in Putnok in 1958, into a family with modest plantings (half a hectare) which were stretched to yield 100 hectolitres of wine. After studying at Hungary’s Horticultural University, Gál won a scholarship to study in Germany.
In 1983, he started work at the Eger-based producer Egervin before moving onto the co-operative at Nagyréde in 1985. He moved back to Egervin to work as technical director and, after hosting Ludovico Antinori there in 1989, he was offered the chance to move to Italy and work in Bolgheri at Tenuta dell’Ornellaia.
There, he progressed from cellar hand to chief winemaker. In 1993, with 4 children to think of, he headed back to his home region of Eger to set up GIA along with his partners Marchese Incisa della Rochetta (of Sassicaia) and German businessman Burkard Bovensiepen, owner of Alpina.
Always tireless, he continued to consult for Ornellaia as well as for wineries in Friuli, and elsewhere in Hungary. In 2004 he became part owner of the Capaia winery in South Africa.
He was named ‘Winemaker of the Year’ by the Hungarian Wine Academy in 1998 and was endowed with the Knight’s Cross of the Republic of Hungary in 2001. He was particularly proud that his 1998 Ornellaia was voted wine of the year by Wine Spectator in 2001.
Those who met Gál were struck by his passion and enthusiasm, particularly for his own region and for Hungarian tradition. Reviving the fortunes of Bull’s Blood – or Egri Bikavér – was one of his missions and he was a firm believer in including local varieties like Kadarka and Kékfrankos in the blend. Pinot Noir was another great passion, which he believed had real potential in Hungary.
He was trialing imported clones and rootstocks across his estate and had just released his first individual ‘cru’ wines, which were showing great promise en route to his stated aim of challenging the Burgundians.
He will be sadly missed.
Written by Caroline Gilby MW