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Global Pests, National Pride, Local Problems, and the Crisis of Hungarian Wine, 1867–1914

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 April 2021

Robert Nemes
Affiliation:
Department of History, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, USA
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Abstract

Hungary has a long, rich history of wine production. Historians have emphasized wine's importance to the development of both the Hungarian economy and Hungarian nationalism. This article ties together these historiographical threads through a case study of a small village in one of Hungary's most famous wine regions. Tracing the village's history from the 1860s to World War I, the article makes three main claims. First, it demonstrates that from the start, this remote village belonged to wider networks of trade and exchange that stretched across the surrounding region, state, and continent. Second, it shows that even as Magyar elites celebrated the folk culture and peasant smallholders of this region, they also cheered the introduction of what they saw as scientific, rational agriculture. This leads to the last argument: wine achieved its place in the pantheon of Hungarian culture at a moment when the local communities that had grown up around its production and stirred the national imagination were undergoing dramatic and irreversible change.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Center for Austrian Studies, University of Minnesota.

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References

1 Szabó, Joseph and Török, Stephen, eds., Album of the Tokay-Hegyalja (Pest, 1867), 3, 5, 7Google Scholar. The quotations are from the English text.

2 Benyák, Ferenc and Benyák, Zoltán, A bor mint nemzeti jelkép (Budapest, 2003)Google Scholar. For a similar interpretation, with an emphasis on the first half of the nineteenth century and attention to non-Magyar writers: Maxwell, Alexander, Everyday Nationalism in Hungary, 1789–1867 (Berlin, 2019), 94127CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The elevation of wine to a national symbol shared much in common with the triumph of gulyás (goulash). See Kisban, Eszter, “From Peasant Dish to National Symbol: An Early Deliberate Example,” Ethnologia Europaea 19, no. 1 (1989): 95–102Google Scholar.

3 On France: Guy, Kathleen, “Rituals of Pleasure in the Land of Treasures: Wine Consumption and the Making of French Identity in the Late Nineteenth Century,” in Food Nations: Selling Taste in Consumer Societies, ed. James, Warren Belasco and Philip Scranton (London, 2002), 3447Google Scholar. On Portugal: Macedo, Marta, “Port Wine Landscape: Railroads, Phylloxera, and Agricultural Science,” Agricultural History 85, no. 2 (2011): 161CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

4 Löfgren, Orvar, “The Nationalization of Culture,” Ethnologia Europaea 19, no. 1 (1989): 12Google Scholar.

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6 Campbell, Christy, Phylloxera: How Wine Was Saved for the World (London, 2004)Google Scholar; Gale, George D., Dying on the Vine: How Phylloxera Transformed Wine (Berkeley, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Simpson, James, Creating Wine: The Emergence of a World Industry, 1840–1914 (Princeton, 2011)Google Scholar.

7 My focus on one village draws inspiration from several excellent local studies, including Loubère, Leo A., Adams, Paul, and Sandstrom, Roy, “Saint-Laurent-de-la-Salanque: From Fishing Village to Wine Town,” Agricultural History 62, no. 4 (1988): 37–56Google Scholar; Macedo, “Port Wine Landscape,” 157–73; Stevens, Carol B., “Shabo: Wine and Prosperity on the Russian Steppe,” Kritika 19, no. 2 (2018): 273–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Keleti, Károly, Magyarország szőlészeti statisztikája 1860–1873 (Budapest, 1875), 1 and 214Google Scholar. Other important works on Hungarian wine: Gyula Szekfű, A magyar bortermelő lelki alkata. Történelmi tanulmány, ed. László Kupa (Budapest, [1922] 2002); Zoltán Halász, Hungarian Wine Through the Ages, trans. István Farkas and Éva Rácz (Budapest, 1962); Melinda Égető, “Szőlőművelés és borászat,” in Magyar néprajz, vol. 2, Gazdálkodás, ed. Attila Paládi-Kovács (Budapest, 2001), 527–96; Benyák, and Benyák, , A bor mint nemzeti jelkép; Alex Liddell, The Wines of Hungary (London, 2003)Google Scholar.

9 Greger, Max, Notes on the Pure or Natural Wines of Hungary, Their Properties and Uses (London, 1881), 1924Google Scholar. Echoing Keleti but offering no figures, Greger claimed that “at this time Hungary stands third only in the list of Wine-producing countries—France and Italy alone surpassing her” (p. 8).

10 Auguste Luchet quoted in Barthélemy de Szemere, Notes on Hungarian Wines (Paris, 1861), 36.

11 The settlement held the rank of market town (mezőváros) until 1876, when Hungary reorganized its local administration; thereafter it was a large village (nagyközség). On its history: Szirmay, Antonio, Notitia historica, politica, oeconomica montium, et locorum viniferorum comitatus Zempleniensis (Cassoviae, 1798), 97105Google Scholar; Mohl, J. and Laszgallner, A. G., Das tokayer Weingebirge und dessen Umgebungen, genannt Hegyallya (Kaschau, 1828), 4347Google Scholar; Sándor Frisnyák, ed., Tállya (Tállya, 1994); Péter Takács, Tállya (Budapest, 2001).

12 Aristocrats and other large landowners, many of them from outside the region, owned vast estates in Tokaj-Hegyalja. Baron Maillot was born in Kaiserlautern and acquired vineyards and a handsome baroque castle in Tállya through marriage to the baroness Margit Beust. The village's property tax assessment in 1894 was 2,336 florins; the baron's share was 760 (33 percent of the total), nearly twice that of the taxes on the village's own lands and four times that of the second highest individual taxpayer. Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén Megyei Leveltár–Sátoraljaújhelyi Fióklevéltár (hereafter BAZML)–SFL V.271. Tállya nagyközség iratai. 154. doboz. Közigazgatási iratok, 1894.

13 On this region: Balassa, Iván, Tokaj-Hegyalja szőleje és bora. Történeti-néprajzi tanulmány (Tokaj, 1991)Google Scholar; Stessel, Zahava Szász, Wine and Thorns in Tokay Valley: Jewish Life in Hungary: The History of Abaújszántó (Madison, NJ, 1995)Google Scholar; Alkonyi, László, Tokaj: The Wine of Freedom (Budapest, 2000)Google Scholar; Lambert-Gócs, Miles, Tokaji Wine: Fame, Fate, Tradition (Williamsburg, VA, 2010)Google Scholar.

14 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, trans. David Luke (Oxford, 1987), 1:69.

15 Balassa, Tokaj-Hegyalja, 401–4.

16 “Habsburg Empire—Cadastral maps (XIX. century),” MAPIRE—Historical Maps Online, accessed 4 May 2020, https://www.arcanum.hu/en/mapire/.

17 Balassa, Tokaj-Hegyalja, 152; Égető, “Szőlőművelés és borászat,” 572.

18 Simpson, Creating Wine, 13.

19 Balassa, Tokaj-Hegyalja, 161–325; Lambert-Gócs, Tokaji Wine, 193–245.

20 Tállya városa szőlőhegy-rendőrségi szabályai (Sátoralja-Ujhely, 1875).

21 The hill judge was required to carry a whistle to summon the shepherds. They in turn had loud noisemakers to scare away birds and sometimes guns for other nuisances, such as stray dogs. Minutes of 2 Sept. 1891 meeting, BAZML–SFL V. 271. 145. kötet. Tállya nagyközség képviselő testületi üléseiről vezetett jegyzőkönyvek. On the shepherds: Bartha, István, “A szőlőőrzés szervezete Tállyán a XIX. század első felében,” A Herman Ottó Múzeum Évkönyve 11 (1972): 551–75Google Scholar.

22 “Eine Weinlese in der Hegyalja,” Morgen Post, 9 Oct. 1880, pp. 1–2.

23 János Kossuth, “Szőlőművelés és gyümölcstermelés,” in Zemplén vármegye, ed. Samu Borovszky (Budapest, 1905), 191.

24 Keleti, Magyarország szőlészeti statisztikája, 114–20; Balassa, Tokaj-Hegyalja, 401.

25 Crosse, Andrew F., Round About the Carpathians (Edinburgh, 1878), 365Google Scholar.

26 Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton, 2015), 4Google Scholar.

27 Meaningfully linking two eras, an early twentieth-century writer called the harvests between 1695 and 1711 a “genuine phylloxera” (valóságos filloxera). Irén Spotkovszky, “A Tokajhegyalja szőlőgazdaságának geografiája,” Borászati Lapok, 31 May 1914, p. 3.

28 BAZML–SFL V.271. Tállya nagyközség iratai. 154. doboz. Közigazgatási iratok, 1870.

29 A magyar korona országainak 1900. évi népszámlálása, pt. 1, A népesség általános leirása községenkint, ed. A Magyar Kir. Központi Statisztikai Hivatal (Budapest, 1902), 553. On the fire: “Segélyt kérnek,” Vasárnapi Ujság, 7 Oct. 1877, p. 636.

30 Weber, Eugen, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914 (Stanford, 1976), 479Google Scholar.

31 Fél, Edit and Hofer, Tamás, Proper Peasants: Traditional Life in a Hungarian Village (Chicago, 1969), 1758Google Scholar.

32 János Sóhalmy, “A Hegyaljának aranykora,” Borászati Lapok, 20 Mar. 1859, pp. 90–91; Sóhalmy, “A Hegyaljának hanyatlása,” Borászati Lapok, 27 Mar. 1859, pp. 97–98. On the wider context of such views: Szekfű, A magyar bortermelő lelki alkata, esp. 67–92.

33 Burchard, István, Néhány szó Tokaj-Hegyalja hanyatlásáról (Pest, 1861), 1617Google Scholar. On the wine trade and Jews’ role in it: Balassa, Tokaj-Hegyalja, 567–644.

34 Keleti, Magyarország szőlészeti statisztikája, 214–19.

35 Scientific misunderstandings are thoughtfully explored in Bittner, Steven V., “American Roots, French Varietals, Russian Science: A Transnational History of the Great Wine Blight in Late-Tsarist Bessarabia,” Past & Present 227, no. 1 (2015): 152–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 Gale, Dying on the Vine, 171; similar arguments appear in Simpson, Creating Wine, 30–57.

37 Campbell, Phylloxera, 27–35, 43–54, 183–89; Gale, Dying on the Vine, 163–83; Stevenson, Iain, “The Diffusion of Disaster: The Phylloxera Outbreak in the Département of the Hérault, 1862–1880,” Journal of Historical Geography 6, no. 1 (1980): 47–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

38 Keleti, Magyarország szőlészeti statisztikája, 220–21. On phylloxera in Hungary: Balassa, Iván, “A Filoxéra Tokaj-Hegyalján,” A Herman Ottó Múzeum Évkönyve 1314 (1975): 305–32Google Scholar; Gábor Töttős, A szekszárdi szőlő és bor. A történelmi borvidék története a kezdetektől a II. világháborúig (Szekszárd, 1987), 65–95.

39 Balassa, “A Filoxéra Tokaj-Hegyalján,” 310.

40 Balassa, Tokaj-Hegyalja, 401. “Tamerlane” comes from “Der Untergang der Hegyalja,” Das Vaterland, 11 Aug. 1889, p. 4.

41 András Löcherer “Tokaj-Hegyalja pusztulása,” Borászati Lapok, 22 June 1889, pp. 153–54.

42 Pawlowska, Yoï, A Child Went Forth (Boston, 1914), 106–7, 143Google Scholar.

43 G[éza] Gárdonyi, “Tállya,” Ország-Világ, 24 Sept. 1892, pp. 631–32. The Lutheran church proudly displays a marble plaque commemorating Kossuth's baptism. On Kossuth and Tállya: Oláh, Tamás, Kossuth Lajos és Zemplén Vármegye. Forráskiadvány (Miskolc, 2002), 9–13, 146, 152–53Google Scholar.

44 Minutes of 26 Nov. 1887 meeting, BAZML–SFL V. 271. 145. kötet. Tállya nagyközség képviselő testületi üléseiről vezetett jegyzőkönyvek. For centuries most nonnoble vineyard owners had paid a tithe or dézsma; although it ended in 1868, growers had been forced to redeem it over the course of twenty-two years.

45 Minutes of 12 Sept. 1892 meeting, BAZML–SFL V. 271. 145. kötet. Tállya nagyközség képviselő testületi üléseiről vezetett jegyzőkönyvek. The council had good reason to be concerned about public health: a study of phylloxera's impact in France found that the negative income shock reduced childhood nutrition in the short term and lowered average heights in the long term. Abhijit Banerjee et al., “Long-Run Health Impacts of Income Shocks: Wine and Phylloxera in Nineteenth-Century France,” The Review of Economics and Statistics 92, no. 4 (2010): 714–28.

46 Balassa, “A Filoxéra Tokaj-Hegyalján,” 316; “Az országos phylloxera kísérleti állomás évi jelentése,” Borászati Lapok, 30 Nov. 1883, p. 264; “Phylloxerairtó szerek,” Borászati Lapok, 1 Apr. 1885, p. 57.

47 On Szabó and reconstruction: “Hivatalos rész,” Zemplén, 20 Mar. 1892, p. 3; “Aus der Provinz,” Abendblatt des Pester Lloyd, 12 Aug. 1893, 1; “Dr. Szabó Gyuláról,” Pesti Hirlap, 15 Aug. 1905, p. 12; Takács, Tállya, 93–101. During this crisis, Borászati Lapok, the trade journal of Hungarian grape and wine producers, published hundreds of research reports, notes on scientific congresses, and travelers’ accounts, all from France.

48 Minutes of 17 Dec. 1888 meeting, BAZML–SFL V. 271. 145. kötet. Tállya nagyközség képviselő testületi üléseiről vezetett jegyzőkönyvek.

49 “Tanulmányút a Hegyalján,” Zemplén, 11 Sept. 1898, pp. 1–2.

50 Ibid., 2.

Ibid.

51 Károly Engelbrecht, “Szőlő- és borgazdaság,” in Magyarország közgazdasági és közművelődési állapota ezeréves fennállásakor és az 1896. évi ezredéves kiállítás eredménye, vol. 6, ed. Sándor Matlekovits (Budapest, 1897), 516. For similar complaints about Tokaj-Hegyalja's winemakers: Kossuth, “Szőlőművelés és gyümölcstermelés,” 192.

52 Heath, Elizabeth, Wine, Sugar, and the Making of Modern France: Global Economic Crisis and the Racialization of French Citizenship, 1870–1910 (Cambridge, 2014), 31CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

53 Balassa, “A Filoxéra Tokaj-Hegyalján,” 325–26; Töttős, A szekszárdi szőlő és bor, 89–95.

54 “A hegyaljai vasút,” Zemplén, 2 Oct. 1909, p. 1. The Tállya village council had been planning and agitating for a railroad for decades. Taking some of the shine off their victory, trains regularly arrived hours late, having waited at other stations for connecting Budapest trains. Minutes of 25 Oct. 1909 meeting, BAZML–SFL V. 271. 146. kötet. Tállya nagyközség képviselő testületi üléseiről vezetett jegyzőkönyvek.

55 Irén Spotkovszky, “A Tokajhegyalja szőlőgazdaságának geografiája,” Borászati Lapok, 14 June 1914, p. 2.

56 Kossuth, “Szőlőművelés és gyümölcstermelés,” 190.

57 Scott, James, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, 1999)Google Scholar; Berry, Wendell, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture (Berkeley, 2015)Google Scholar.

58 “A Hegyalja ujjászületés,” Magyarország, 17 July 1897, p. 3.

59 Balassa, Tokaj-Hegyalja, 270.

60 Minutes of 24 June 1885 meeting, BAZML–SFL V. 271. 145. kötet. Tállya nagyközség képviselő testületi üléseiről vezetett jegyzőkönyvek.

61 Although wine drinkers in Hungary appreciated the ready wine and low prices, wine specialists had nothing good to say about this treaty. According to one, the customs agreement was a “tragic turning point” for Hungarian wine production, adding that it had been signed only to help Austrian manufacturers gain a foothold in Italy. Echoing a common refrain, the writer alleged that Italian wine was poor in quality and routinely adulterated. See Qualceduno, “Az olasz verseny és bortermelésünk,” Borászati Lapok, 8 Apr. 1900, pp. 337–40.

62 On this scandal: “Borkereskedő plebános és az olasz bor,” Felsőmagyarországi Hírlap, 14 Dec. 1901, p. 2; “A Tállyai esethez,” Borászati Lapok, 5 Jan. 1902, pp. 2–4; minutes of 8 Jan. 1902 meeting, BAZML–SFL V. 271. 145. kötet. Tállya nagyközség képviselő testületi üléseiről vezetett jegyzőkönyvek.

63 Goldberg, Kevin D., “Reaping the Judenfrage: Jewish Wine Merchants in Central Europe before World War I,” Agricultural History 87, no. 2 (2013): 224–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

64 Minutes of 8 Apr. 1899 meeting, BAZML–SFL V. 271. 145. kötet. Tállya nagyközség képviselő testületi üléseiről vezetett jegyzőkönyvek.

65 Irén Spotkovszky, “A Tokajhegyalja szőlőgazdaságának geografiája,” Borászati Lapok, 14 June 1914, pp. 1–3.

66 BAZML–SFL V.271. Tállya nagyközség iratai. 155. doboz. Közigazgatási iratok, 1913. This document gives information on forty men born in Tállya in 1893. Fully 75 percent still lived in Tállya, and another 10 percent in neighboring villages. The remaining 15 percent had moved to Hungarian cities (7.5 percent) or America (7.5 percent).

67 Emil Hézser, “Tokajhegyaljai veszedelmek,” Borászati Lapok, 12 Aug. 1906, pp. 568–69.

68 “Kivándorlók figyelmébe,” Pesti Hirlap, 17 July 1907, p. 8.

69 To be sure, some migrants later returned home, and many others found ways to continue winemaking in America, often at home and sometimes illegally. According to Julianna Puskás, migrants established several short-lived winemaking settlements in Georgia, including one named Tokaj. Julianna Puskás, Ties That Bind, Ties That Divide: 100 Years of Hungarian Experience in the United States, trans. Zora Ludwig (New York, 2000), 114.

70 Takács, Tállya, 97.

71 Minutes of 25 Oct. 1909 meeting, BAZML–SFL V. 271. 146. kötet. Tállya nagyközség képviselő testületi üléseiről vezetett jegyzőkönyvek.

72 Irén Spotkovszky, “A Tokajhegyalja szőlőgazdaságának geografiája,” Borászati Lapok, 14 June 1914, pp. 1–3; also see Égető, “Szőlőművelés és borászat,” 593.

73 Keleti, Magyarország szőlészeti statisztikája, 222.

74 Stoker, Bram, Dracula (New York, 1897), 19Google Scholar.

75 Löfgren, “The Nationalization of Culture,” 12.

76 Similar goals animated national elites across Europe when it came to food and drink. For Spain, see Anderson, Lara, Cooking Up the Nation: Spanish Culinary Texts and Culinary Nationalism (Woodbridge, 2013), 114Google Scholar.

77 UNESCO, “Tokaj Wine Region Historic Cultural Landscape,” accessed 30 Sept. 2020, https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1063/.

78 Hungarikum Bizottság, “Collection of Hungarikums,” accessed 30 Sept. 2020, http://www.hungarikum.hu/.

79 Egry, Gábor and Miklós, Ágnes Kata, “An Anti-Communist Revolution of Gastronomy: The Gastronomy Renewal Movement and Hungarian History,” Mediální studia 9, no. 2 (2015): 104–19Google Scholar.

80 Péter Ruffy, “Talányok Tállyán,” Érdekes Ujság, 13 Dec. 1958, p. 3.

81 “László Alkonyi, Tokaj (Hungary),” Wine Tasting, Vineyards, in France, 28 July 2016, accessed 10 May 2020, https://www.wineterroirs.com.

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