Preserving ancient varieties while creating new and probably better types of wine grapes are the key goals of the Research Institute of Viticulture and Enology at the University of Pécs (RIVE-UP). We visited their facilities and had the chance to taste some rareties.
Working with genes and clones is nothing new: plant breeding with the help of selection and creating better properties for crops, fruits, vegetables has been always an important part of agriculture and agriculture education. From the late 19th century a wine-making and wine-trader school operated in Pécs too. That’s why the foundation of the Experimental Branch of the Research Institute of Viticulture in 1949 wasn’t a surprise at all. Ever since the institute and its successors established a world-acclaimed grape gene bank with 1,600 different cultivars. The plantings of RIVE-UP can be found in the Western outskirts of Pécs, that are also the largest vineyards in town since others have been consumed by the expanding city.
In the second half of the last century several new varieties were born in Pécs. The Z-series is the most famous and quite popular in Hungary consisting of wine grapes called zenit, zengő, zeus, zefír and zéta. All of these give early ripening, flavourful white grapes and have mild acidity but are high in sugar. There are also clonal selection projects in progress which means that no cross breeding occurs but the benefits of e.g. spontaneous mutation are used.
The research conducted in the last decades concentrates on two important circumstances. The first is climate change that has a huge impact on wine grapes. Especially on the ripening process. Their second goal is to create varieties that are much more resistant against different diseases. In this way less or none chemicals have to be used in the fields. In both projects researches are working together with the private sector (small and big wineries in the region) and the outcome of these projects is evaluated on a regular basis. That means tasting since the final products, wines of excellent quality is the most important.
Visitors can taste the wines made at the cellar of RIVE-UP on guided tours and they have a shop in Pázmány Péter st. But the guided tour is much more interesting since you get the chance to taste rarities that don’t make it into bottles because they are very limited editions.