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Europe as Seen From the Vineyards of Hungary : The Tokay Region

Local Dynamics and European Perspectives

Among Hungary's wine regions, the Tokay is known widely for its sweet, concentrated white wines, the tokaj aszu. Françoise Plet of the laboratory Dynamiques Sociales and Recomposition des Espaces (LADYSS) has followed closely the geographical and social changes that have accompanied privatisation and Hungary's entry into the European Union1.

Economic upheavals and social consequences
World renowned for its wine since the 18th century, this region's five thousand hectares of vineyards have attracted foreign investors since the first days of privatisation in 1991, and especially French investors. More recently Hungarian expatriates in Europe and the United States have come onto the market. The result has been rapid change as new vineyards are planted, new construction goes up, and new producers and new firms take root. As of 1994 the loss of the Soviet market, which had absorbed 70% of Tokay production, triggered a steep crisis in this industry. Wine growers had hoped that the new firms would buy up production as the State used to do, but so far they have only been interested in purchasing botrytis grapes, the so-called noble rot for making late harvest wines. This has created a divide between these producers and the producers of ordinary wine grapes. Sales remain stymied and many vineyards are left derelict while investors are buying up the best parcels.

European Union membership
Only the high quality sector of the winemaking industry of Tokay is ready for membership. Newcomer investors have sought from the beginning to maintain the amount of acreage planted in vines in order to keep plantation statistics at their maximum, but this has had little effect on the majority of producers who are not well-informed in European procedures. Newcomers have also sought to manage quality and origin designations at a regional level.

EU entry will have a strong impact as it frees buyers from the limits imposed by the law of 1994. The run-up to Union membership has benefited local communities as a result of the Phare2 programme and loans from the BERD3 (which according to its statutes will cease operations in the country upon its accession to the EU). It is therefore with new and constrasting structures that the vineyards of Tokay will join the EU. There remains a great deal to be done if membership is to benefit all of the region.


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Françoise Plet
Professor at University Paris 8
E-mail: plet@univ-paris8.fr

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