Cellars of the Paraska family are also historical: they were dug by Italian prisoners during the First World War and in the 20-40-ies of the last century Jews kept kosher wine there. Southern slopes of the mountains of this region which are situated next to the Transcarpathian regional centre of Beregovo and of Bene village are considered to be ideal for cultivating European grape varieties. Local winemakers are close spiritually to their colleagues from Italy, France and, most of all from Hungary. Even their technologies are similar, as the names of grape varieties such as Leanka, Furmint, Muscat, Ottonel, Zweigelt, Bokotor Cserszegi fűszeres and other imply…
Even the Soviet Union couldn`t break the continuity of the tradition, though it made big trouble: historical noble vines were uprooted and strong, but not so high-quality hybrid Isabella was planted. Shortly thereafter, it was on everyone`s lips almost on the whole territory of the giant artificial state, but nowadays Transcarpathian winemakers revive European practices. Their main work now is the work of wine-growers. After all, to produce good wine, good vine is needed. “And also love,” says Herhei Paraska and repeats the favourite phrase of his father, from whom he inherited this business. “Grapes love sun and the shadow of the owner”, said Yurii Paraska, the late famous Transcarpathian owner.
“There is the juice of a mountain and the sweat of the owner in a glass of wine”, he added, showing off his grapes. He`s got a collection of more than 200 varieties. His proudest achievement were the vines, he brought from “genetic bank” of Budapest: only certain varieties, that have been bred in Transcarpathia during the Austro-Hungarian Empire remained there. While rare vines grew stronger, he became famous not only for his exemplary good ear, but also for Ice wine – a beverage that is made from grapes that dried on the vine and waited for the frost, and so gave the drink the concentrate of flavour and aroma. “No, I don`t do that now – the weather isn`t appropriate for that in recent years,” says Herhei Yuriiovych. But the blood of the winemaker-experimenter passed to his son – Paraska Junior also makes unique drinks, treating this job as art and not as the way to make money. That is why not only wine, but also traditions are still kept in the ancient cellars of Berehovo. One of them is to invite the entire family to pick the first grapes and to celebrate this event together.
Young winemaker enjoys every guest who has learned in this cellar to distinguish the wines and to appreciate their uniqueness. He believes: the culture of Transcarpathia is inseparable from the European culture. However, he respects the wines of the Crimea (“I wish I`d found again the opportunity to examine them”, he complains) and Odessa region: “They have a very different aroma and “body”, the wines are red and of a very high quality,” says the grape-grower and wine-maker.
Recently Gergely Paraska was accepted into the cohort of the knights of the Wine order of St. Wenzel – winemakers` club, that is very honourable and interesting to belong to, because masters share secrets, keep reaching to each other and arrange joint events. “It’s inspiration and it`s training. I am a young wine-maker. I’m lucky to be my father’s son and to know more, because my dad imparted all his wisdom and achievements to me. But I’m learning every day!”, says Herhei, who is also the first in the family to have formal education in their field. He shows us his “invention”: the author’s blend “Kvitkove” contains the most part of the grape juice, that has not fermented yet. He stops this process with his own magic and science, and the output is marvellously flavourful and absolutely light beverage, with all characteristics of wine, except for strength.
Nod`s family is from Berehovo (their cellar and a small vineyard next to it is located here, on Vynohradnaya Street) and makes wine for generations as well. Today, Vasyl Nod being a well-known grape-grower and wine-maker already has his own brand, and wine cellar Nota Bene is famous not only in Transcarpathia. Only European varieties, the wine exclusively in glass with family wax seal, and before that – in barrels made by the hands of the father and of the son, who also joined the family business. We joke: a quiz on photos of the inscriptions on these elegant oak barrels can be arranged for tourists. But for every inhabitant of this land the answer is obvious: with a few letters of the cipher – elegant Traminer, Merlot, Riesling Italian, Cabernet Sauvignon and Muller Thurgau…
In the winery of the Nods drinks are made from grapes mainly of Austrian, Italian and Hungarian origin. And as always, following the European practice: here the emphasis is not on quantity, but on quality. First of all they invested in cellar, that got settled in 1990, picking up dozens of garbage in trucks before that: the old winery, which was dug in the rock and abandoned in the Soviet times, and especially during the “prohibition period”. Gradually the areas of vines were expanded, but cultivating more than a hectare per year has not been possible: too big an investment. “My investors are those people who like my wine: in each bottle there is some new planting, and so we develop. It is a pity that there is no state support. But we managed to get a grant for the purchase of agricultural machinery, which is a big help,” notes Vasyl Nod. Currently they have over 2 acres of wineyards with precious vines and they are waiting for harvest in several more areas, which were gradually cultivated a few years ago.
“Good wine requires good grapes and nature will do the rest. Our task is not to interfere with it, perhaps only to help a little,” smiles the wine-maker, who wishes Transcarpathian wine to achieve its well-deserved fame. By the way, private Transcarpathian wine-makers throughout the country are in the “grey sector” of the economy: their wines cannot be found in stores, as they work mainly in the formаt of wine tasting and festivals, for the legislative regulation of the case is yet to come, as well as the recognition of natural wine as a food product and not an excise goods, that would simplify the life of small producers and of those wine cellars which are called “boutique”.
Meanwhile, an esteemed wine-maker Mr. Vasyl creates his own enoteca: a collection of the best wines of the season. The bottles are covered with noble dust and stored in the back of his family cellar right where luxuriates … mould. It is not a trivial consequence of moisture or, God forbid, untidiness: no, traditional wine cellars are not only maintained in peak condition, but also have special microclimate and microflora, and an indispensable part of it is a noble mould.
Telling us about that, Basil Nod also dwells upon the secrets of the right barrel filling procedure, that results in limiting the air contact with wine to a certain extent. In order to transfer wine from the barrel (all guests should by all means learn how theory is applied to practice here) the winemaker uses “lopovka” – a special glass device, whose name literally means “to steal from a neighbour” in Hungarian. It was made of a special kind of pumpkin in the past.
Vasyl fills glasses (one third full – as the wine tasting etiquette demands – to make wine breath) and tells the story of a legendary “Angel particle”: an amount of beverage that evaporates out of barrels while aging and really “breathes”. Cellar master tells: wine should be evaluated comprehensively, three senses are involved in wine tasting: vision, smell and taste, and only if everyone likes the product, you can say that the wine is “yours”, since a wine taster may not like the taste even of the best quality wine. So you should search for the right wine for your tastes, that`ll make you feel happy. And this is also an art.
Apparently, it is because of the fact that workers here treat their work as an art and mission to preserve the craft and culture of their land, that the sunny beverage made by the wine-makers of Berehovo has a special nuance in its bouquet. A special touch complements delicate and tart aroma of flowers and fruits (sometimes also of wood and tobacco, and even of tanned leather). Probably, this is how passion for your own work and love for tradition smell and taste.
Text: Alla Khayatova
Photo – Serhii Hudak