Location is everything. The small, but thriving village of Csopak along the northern shore of Lake Balaton in Hungary has made the most of its location. Less than 10 km (6 miles) from the popular resort town of Balatonfüred, climate, water and wine have been central to sustaining the life of this village. Many visitors to the area bypass Csopak in a mad rush to Balatonfüred. This is unfortunate because Csopak has the kind of simple delights that make it a memorable experience in its own right. It also has a fated history of cataclysm and rebirth that provides a unique perspective on 1,800 years of life in the area.
Water Into Wine
Start with the waterwheels of Csopak. These are the historic remnants of pre-modern industry that once helped power the local economy. Six of these mills can still be found scattered throughout the village today. They are among the oldest structures in Csopak. Their age, at just over two hundred years is less than ancient. This relative youth, compared to what can be found in other parts of Central Europe, is both deceptive and revealing. It gives some idea of the tumultuous history from which the village has so often suffered. The 16th and 17th centuries were not kind to Csopak. For many years it was located in a no man’s land border zone of conflict between the Ottoman Turkish and Habsburg Armies. Border warfare led to the total destruction of Csopak. After a century and a half of on again, off again warfare little if anything remained of what had once been a prosperous community. Eradication of pre-Ottoman invasion Csopak was so complete that the village would have to be totally reconstructed. In the early 18th century only the village’s name remained.
The rebirth of Csopak would take place by recalling an earlier and much more successful era in the village’s history. An era that has reoccurred throughout its history, no matter who ruled the land, this might best be termed the age of wine. The first recorded documentation of Csopak can be found in 1082, with a written reference to the Bishop of Veszprém’s vineyards. Wine was a major force in the economic life of Hungary during the Middle Ages. The Hungarians were building upon a much earlier tradition. A few kilometers inland from Csopak, on the Balaca Plains, once stood Villa Urbana. This Roman site from the 2nd century was the beginning of winemaking in the immediate area. The Romans were the first to realize the tremendous potential of the region’s climate. The early springs, warm summers, long dry autumns and mild winters in the area were perfect for wine cultivation.
Continuity and Change – Cultivating Csopak
Hungarians built upon this legacy eight centuries later, as they restrung vineyards across the hillsides. Csopak’s situation on the shores of Lake Balaton proved to be advantageous as well. Sunlight that is reflected off the sparkling waters of the lake improves the quality of grapes, a key ingredient to the microclimate that has driven development of the village time and again. In a village that was susceptible to upheaval, winemaking turned out to be the one constant, a perpetual source of regeneration throughout its history. Thus in the early modern era of the 18th and 19th centuries an influx of new settlers restarted wine production to boost the local economy. This rebirth culminated in Csopak once again becoming home to the Bishop of Veszprém’s vineyards. This was not without difficulties as the dreaded Phylloxera plague put most of the vineyards out of business in the latter part of the 19th century. Csopak vintners had to start all over, reconstituting production.
Today one of the major economic engines for the village is the wine industry. The area is part of the Balatonfüred -Csopak Wine Region that covers 17 towns and villages across 2,500 hectares. Csopak is home to Olaszrizling, an ancient variety of white grape. The wines made from these are known for their complexity and acidic strength. Wine lovers flock to the Jasdi Wine Cellar which was built at the end of the 18th century. During communist rule it fell into disrepair, but was restarted by the Jasdi family in 1998. The family had the cellars neo-baroque buildings restored to their original appearance. This award winning cellar now produces approximately 80,000 bottles of wine per year. Wine tourism is thriving like never before in the area.
A Day At The “Hungarian Sea”
Visitors also come to Csopak for its famous strand which offers one of the prime vacation spots along Lake Balaton’s northern shore. The greenish tinged waters of Balaton seem to glitter and glow depending upon the angle of the sun. They act as a magnet to those longing for relaxation. Though the northern side of the lake is the deepest, it still only averages three meters (10 feet) in depth. The water is also a bit cooler, but visitors can still swim here for at least five months a year. In this landlocked nation, Lake Balaton affords Hungarians the opportunity to frolic in the “Hungarian Sea.” Hungarians greatly value “the Balaton” as they like to call it, more so due to the fact that they do not have any ocean or sea coastline. As the largest freshwater lake in the whole of Central Europe, Lake Balaton holds a special place in the hearts of Hungarians and Csopak is center stage for many in this love affair. It is easy to see why. A tough day at the beach is usually followed up with a visit to one of the many pinces (wine cellars). What could be more appealing than a frolic along the strand, followed by an evening spent with one of Balatonfüred’s exceptional wines.