Geology As Destiny – Badacsony Wine Region: A Process Millions Of Years In The Making

It has been said that geography is destiny. This can be interpreted to mean the places where we live shape our economic, social and cultural outlook on life. If this is true, then the earth which is the basis for so much of geography must also be of immense importance. That makes geology the foundation on which humanity and the rest of the world is set. The earth literally undergirds civilization. In Europe, due to its rich and magnificent cultural history, it is easy to forget the critical role played in the shaping of European culture by the natural environment. This is no less true in Hungary than it is anywhere else on the continent. The land and what it can produce has affected the way of life in Hungary going all the way back to antiquity.

Badacsony Mountain with vineyards in the foreground

Badacsony Mountain with vineyards in the foreground

Creating Badacsony – Of Time & Wine
Volcanos are a striking example of what the earth is able to produce. Superficially it seems that volcanoes cultivate destruction. Hot molten lava spews forth, laying waste to anything in its path of fiery destruction. At the same time volcanoes create future landscapes. Earth is being shaped, formed and molded. Taking the long view, in a geological rather than biological sense of time, hundreds of thousands or millions of years later the earth may give rise to rare species of life. This is what has happened in Hungary. One of the best places to grasp volcanic and by extension geological influences on a place is along the northern shore of Lake Balaton. Here the 437 meter (1,433 feet) high Badacsony Mountain looms over a wine region of the same name. Picturesque vineyards stretch expansively all the way down to the waters of Balaton. Along the mountain slopes, the rich residue of volcanos from five million years ago washes downward. These extremely fertile soils have created a magnificent microclimate. The interplay of earth, air and water at Badacsony has brought about one of the great wine growing regions in Hungary.

Wine cultivation has occurred in western Hungary going back to Roman times almost two thousand years ago. In the latter half of the Third Century, the Roman Emperor Probus (276 – 282 AD) established one of the first true wine making operations in the Badacsony region. He did this by first lifting the ban on wine cultivation in the Roman provinces that had been decreed almost two centuries before by the emperor Domitian (81 – 96 AD). Probus wanted to keep his soldiers busy and productive during times of peace. He thus ordered that his soldiers be engaged in the creation of vineyards. This helped kick start the provincial agricultural economy which had been ravaged over the preceding decades by wars with barbarian tribes. The vineyards were also a matter of personal safety for Probus. The old cliché that “idle time is the devil’s best friend” could have deadly consequences for a Roman Emperor in late antiquity. Probus knew only too well what might occur if the soldiery was left to its own devices, revolt and assassination. During the Crisis of the Third Century (235 – 285 AD) the empire suffered through a period of 35 emperors in just 50 years. Probus turned out to be one of the more successful emperors as far as longevity was concerned, lasting six years. He also left a legacy that lives on to this day in the form of Badacsony’s wine making.

Kéknyelű Grapes

Kéknyelű Grapes – a rare breed that is grown only in the Badacsony Wine Region

The Rare Breed Of Badacsony
The Badacsony area was recognized early on as having rare climatic conditions for the cultivation of that most essential element of fantastic wines, grapes. Today, the wine region consists of sixteen villages on the northern shore of Balaton. A most unusual element of Badacsony’s microclimate is the interplay of light and water. The slopes of Badacsony are the recipient of sunlight reflected by the lake. This, along with higher humidity from the water, creates an ideal locale for the cultivation of grapes. Most famously, Kéknyelű (Blue Stem) grapes are raised in the area. This is the only place in the world where this white Hungarian grape can be grown.

Even so, because Kéknyelű vines need just the right conditions to thrive and take up twice the amount of land that other varieties of grape do, many vintners have reduced or altogether given up cultivation of Kéknyelű. Less land for cultivation means less profit and it is not just the economic imperative which threatens Kéknyelű. Its plight was worsened by severe frosts that occurred in the 1980’s which badly damaged its prospects. It looked to be on the verge of extinction, but has been making a welcome comeback of late. The twenty-first century threat is of course climate change. Fragile micro-climates are almost always the first to succumb as the earth warms. The slightest change in temperature or precipitation levels could lead to disastrous consequences threatening Kéknyelű.

Badacsony and Lake Balaton

Badacsony and Lake Balaton – a unique and rare landscape (Credit txd)

A Land For All Times – Geology As Destiny
The idea that Badacsony’s micro climate could possibly be threatened is enough to get the attention of local skeptics of global warming. The interplay of the earth with changing atmospheric conditions could give rise to new upheavals, leading to yet another evolution of the land. What the future holds for this landscape is a question that goes well beyond human life spans. The Badacsony Wine Region is the opposite of a timeless landscape. It is really a land for all times. Whether those times can be measured on a geological or biological scale, by natural or human historical processes, through the prisms of antiquity or modernity, the one thing that remains through all these changes is the land. Geology is truly destiny at Badacsony.

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