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Winemaking Through the Eyes of a Woman

Although winemaking is often perceived as a male-dominated profession, an increasing number of women are choosing it as their vocation. What is the key to their success? We explored this topic with Rita Balogh, the head winemaker at Disznókő.

How did you become a winemaker?

Grapes and wine have always been an integral part of my life. Growing up, my parents owned a small vineyard, and I was immersed in that world from an early age. I cherished the moments spent with my father, assisting him, and being captivated by the vibrant atmosphere of the family harvests. I developed a passion for tasting the must and, later, the wine alongside the adults. One could say winemaking was in my blood, and though I initially had doubts about whether it was indeed my calling, I eventually embraced it. The more I learn and explore, the more my enthusiasm grows, fueling my desire to acquire extensive knowledge so that one day, I can create a wine that reflects my vision with pride.

What journey led you to Disznókő?

I completed my studies as a wine technologist at the Eszterházy Károly University of Applied Sciences. From 2013 onwards, I worked at László Winery in Tállya. After a few years, I realized that the practical experience I gained there would greatly complement my university education. Consequently, I enrolled in viticulture and winemaking engineering program at Szent István University, allowing me to perceive things differently. Following this, I pursued an Erasmus internship in Mallorca, where I contributed to vineyard projects at a research institute. Later, I explored the intricacies of sparkling wine production Nyetimber. I joined Disznókő in 2021.

What challenges must female winemakers face?

Despite an increasing number of women working in the industry, it remains common for them to be mistaken for hostesses at tastings, leading to surprise when it becomes evident that they are the winemakers. 

 There have been instances where older male colleagues skeptically asked what I would do with challenges like washing a 5-hectoliter barrel, but I jokingly replied that I go to the gym to ensure that it doesn’t pose a problem.  While tasks like assembling or moving the piping system for pumping can be physically demanding, someone is always willing to help with heavy lifting when needed. General cellar tasks, such as racking or blending, can be proficiently executed by women just as well as by men. Moreover, with advancing technology, there are fewer physically demanding tasks for us.

What is the biggest misconception about female winemakers?

Many believe women have better tasting abilities and sharper senses than men. While scientific evidence may suggest that our sense of smell is more refined, granting us advantages in detecting aromas, there is no definitive gender-based difference in overall tasting abilities. Additionally, another stereotype is the notion that female winemakers must be tough to thrive in a male-dominated field. One thing is sure: it is an exciting, adventurous profession where one can embrace both the explorer, adventurous side of trudging through vineyards and cellars, and the feminine, stylish side represented by wearing high heels beyond the estate.

What sets apart a wine made by a woman?

I don’t think there is a distinct category of „female wine.” Still, in my opinion, women often approach winemaking with a heightened sense of sensitivity, creating more refined and meticulously crafted wines. Perhaps, we pay closer attention to the finer nuances. However, for the average consumer, what truly matters is the tasting environment, their previous wine experiences, the food pairing, and the company they enjoy it with, rather than the gender of the winemaker. The wine’s style is more identifiable than its association with gender.

Have you discovered your style, or are you still searching?

Disznókő already possesses a beloved and well-defined style that resonates with consumers, so I strive to align myself with that and carry it forward. However, this doesn’t imply that no experiments or innovations are taking place, occasionally leaving a hint of my personal touch on the wines.

Is there a woman in the industry who serves as an inspiration to you?

Answering this question is challenging as several female winemakers in the Tokaj Wine Region produce exceptional wines. Nevertheless, I hold a particular admiration for Berecz Stephanie’s refined and elegant wines, as well as Ujváry Vivien’s distinctive style.

Do you have a preferred wine that you have crafted?

It’s not easy to single out one specific favorite, but I am deeply fond of the sweet and dry wines from the 2021 vintage. It was a cooler year that showcased fresh, crisp acidity, which I genuinely appreciate. Moreover, these wines hold a special place in my heart as they were crafted during my inaugural harvest at Disznókő.

Could you suggest a wine and food pairing that you particularly enjoy?

During Christmas, I prepared a beloved dish inspired by a recipe from Street Kitchen: duck liver pâté with aszú jelly, roasted pear, and sweet bread, complemented by Disznókő Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2013. Since then, it has become a dish I could indulge in every day.

Another cherished combination on my list involves grilled trout marinated with olive oil, lemon juice, thyme, and rosemary, served with Disznókő Furmint. I sprinkle sea salt flakes to enhance the flavors and accompany them with a fresh green salad.

What is your primary goal as a winemaker?

We all consider it essential in this profession that consumers and experts speak positively about the wine we create. We strive to create and produce the best wine possible by paying attention to the subtle nuances.

What advice would you give to young women aspiring to become winemakers?

Many start this journey with doubts, just like I did in the past, questioning how women can establish themselves in this industry. They should remember that with hard work and perseverance, they can truly accomplish anything. If possible, training, expanding their knowledge, and gaining international experience are essential. We now see a strong presence of female winemakers and their wines, even within our region. With the right balance of professional humility and determination, we can excel just as well as men. We must believe in ourselves, trust our instincts and decisions, and remember that there is always a woman behind every successful man!