Below is a list and a short profile of my favorite Sopron winemakers. This list is by nature subjective, reflecting my own impressions based on multiple visits and tastings. You'll find both sizable wineries and small family operations; either way, I’m partial to wineries that convey a special sense of place.
A few things to keep in mind
Try booking a tasting as far in advance as possible. Note that not all wineries offer a tasting, or not year-round.
If you’re at least somewhat knowledgeable about wines and curious to learn more, convey in your email that you’d love the head winemaker to lead the tasting (with family wineries this is often the default case).
A tasting usually costs around €10-15 per person. Hungarian visitors often end up buying several bottles afterward. For foreigners, logistics can complicate things, so consider leaving a generous tip if you don’t end up purchasing.
Tastings usually go for an hour, but they can last much longer than that. It’s prudent not to schedule more than two, maximum three, winery visits per day.
If you’re driving, or simply don’t feel like getting loaded at midday, use the spittoons provided. By smelling and swooshing the wine around your mouth, you’ll still be able to taste it.
Not all winemakers speak flawless English but most are conversational.
The wineries & winemakers
One of the best-known labels in both Sopron and Burgenland, Weninger maintains a modern winery on both sides of the border. Under the helm of Franz Reinhard Weninger, the company farms its 21 hectares of lake-facing vineyards organically and biodynamically. Unlike the heavy kékfrankos still common on both sides of the border, Franz believes in a more elegant and drinkable style lower in alcohol and reflecting Sopron's soil rather than masking the wines with harsh tannins or flavors of new oak barrels (all his wines are unfiltered). This is especially true for Weninger’s “Ponzichter” line, named after Sopron’s German-speaking winemakers of yore, and made in part using semi-carbonic maceration.
A Sopron native, Péter Wetzer grew up near grapes and immersed himself in the world of wines as a wine store manager in Austria. He was inspired by prominent Burgenland producers such as Roland Velich (Moric) and Uwe Schiefer, who made wonderful low-intervention wines just across the border. Péter is a great believer in the kékfrankos grapes, which he farms conscientiously on his small vineyards outside Sopron. His wines, all of them unfiltered, are beautifully expressive of their limestone and slate soils. In small quantities, he also puts out whites (grüner veltliner, traminer, furmint), some of it from his vineyards in Somló. Péter’s wines are currently sold only abroad, his U.S. importer is the prestigious Jenny & Francois.
In 2006, sisters Birgit and Katrin Pfneiszl took over the family winery whose vineyards are near Sopron but the winery itself on the Austrian side. After wine school, Birgit spent internships in New Zealand, Chile, and Italy (Távoli Világ, a blend made from malbec, carmenere, sangiovese, syrah, and zinfandel, pays homage to her travels). Pfneiszl makes wines ranging from the fizzy summer hit Zenit to long-aged reds. I love that they show off both sides of kékfrankos: a lighter and juicier (“Újra együtt”), and a more complex one with a welcome tannic grip. Neither is better than the other, they each call for a different occasion.
Sopron’s most ambitious winery of the recent past is overseen by owner Bálint Lőrinczy and winemaker Tamás Varga. The goal of this certified organic winery is to put Sopron back on the global wine map and close the gap with the better-known producers in Burgenland across the border in Austria (“they use the same soil, same sun, same wind”). Apart from their precisely made kékfrankos and grüner veltliner, Steigler has planted furmint grapes on two hectares, returning this once ubiquitous variety to the region.
One of the beloved Sopron winemakers, Enikő Luka took over the small family winery twenty years ago following her father’s sudden passing. She has since stuck to her winning recipe, producing hefty but well-balanced and age-worthy wines from some of the top vineyards of the region near Lake Neusiedl. Merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and pinot noir varieties complement her kékfrankos, all of which are sold mainly on the local Hungarian market.
A colorful figure of the wine region, József Horváth is an opinionated chef and winemaker. His restaurant and winery are both based out of the farmer’s house where he grew up along the main street of Fertőrákos. Neither his wine, nor his dishes are too wallet-friendly, but both can be memorably good, showing an imprint of his personality. A self-praising monologue usually precedes any interaction with József but that’s part of the fun.
The grand old man of Sopron, Zoltán Iváncsics is a fixture of Sopron’s wine world. He worked at the local state-owned collective during Communism, after which he branched out on his own, buying a few precious vineyards facing Lake Neusiedl. He is a practical man, selling both easygoing jug wines for local residents who drop by his garage winery in the afternoons, and also age-worthy kékfrankos, merlot, syrah, and pinot noir by the bottle. Zoltán is among the few producers with a late harvest wine, made from botrytis-affected grapes (there’s more on the Austrian side, east of Lake Neusiedl).
The small family winery of Ágnes Zachár specializes in white wines, especially grüner veltliner and chardonnay. Defying conventions, Ágnes ages the wines in new oak barrels, believing they add layers of complexity. She also makes kékfrankos where she lets the grape skins macerate with the grape juice for up to 45 days, imparting a tannic grip that holds the wine together. Given the small production, her wines are available only locally. The family’s tidy 6-room apartment house is right by the city center.