“Tradition and Quality” – The 135-Year History of Törley Sparkling Wine
Hungary is wine country, and the foundation for good sparkling wine is good wine, since the former is to the latter a type in which maturation takes place in the bottle itself. József Törley knew this already at the start of the nineteenth century, when he used the knowledge he acquired in France to found his business, Törley József and Co., with which he laid down the cornerstone of Hungarian Champagne-style sparkling wine production.
The Törley brand represents quality and tradition; 130 years of production in Budafok – which in Roman times was known as Promontor – can attest to this. The first winery in Hungary was registered in 1882 at the Registry Court of Budapest; now the reputation of Hungarian wine has been enhanced in countless other countries around the world, thanks to Törley sparkling wines. In Estonia it leads the wine market, and it belongs to the narrow scope of holiday favorites in Sweden, but there is also demand in Nigeria, Vietnam and China.
The Törley family history dates back all the way to the seventeenth century. The family's ancestors were key players in the recapture of the Buda Castle, in the 1848-49 War of Independence, and with the introduction and success of József Törley’s champagne production, they were also able to contribute to positive development of the Hungarian economy. A man of German ancestry, Valentin Schmierl, wished to attest to his ‘Hungarianness’ by Magyarizing his name to Bálint Törley during the war of '48. The selection of his Hungarian name came from his original German name, Schmierl - which, incidentally, is derived from schmieren and streich - which means to pull out, delete (Törley).
Törley’s third son would be the future founder of the sparkling wine factory: József Törley, who was born in Subotica on January 10, 1858. József broke with family tradition and chose a civilian career. The young entrepreneur studied at the Academy of Trade in Graz, and after completing his degree got in contact with Theophilus Roederer, a champagne factory owner in Reims, and even received a position as a Franco-German commercial correspondent, but soon after began work at the company Delbeck & Cie. Since he acquired all his knowledge and practice of producing champagne at “the very first French houses”, he established his first factory in France, in Reims, the capital of Champagne, but shortly thereafter proceeded to do the same in Budapest. The young entrepreneur was just 24 years old when, during a tour of Hungary, he recognized Budafok’s suitability for champagne production, so he purchased vineyards, a wine house and several other buildings. On August 1, 1882, he relocated the Reims factory to Budafok and registered the company as Törley József and Co. under the address 578 Péter-Pál Street. Production began using French machines and French specialists.
Joseph Törley, creator of the Hungarian sparkling wine production (photo: mindmegette.hu)
The Hungarian champagne factory was fitted out with the most modern equipment of the era. In Hungary, it was József Törley who first introduced the process of disgorging through freezing, and high-quality raw materials were purchased in the Etyek wine region. József Törley, in addition to being an excellent sparkling wine maker and specialist, also proved to be a great businessman. He recognized the potential importance of the advertising market and its influential role. The side of his truck, acquired in France – which, incidentally, was the first in Hungary – displayed a giant Törley inscription. The plant’s success story is well reflected in statistics as well: in 1890, 300,000 bottles of champagne were produced a year, while 15 years later, in 1905, the production of the factory was tripled and over one million bottles were produced that year, which meant that it became the largest champagne factory in the Monarchy. However, Mr Törley unfortunately couldn’t enjoy the breakthrough success for very long, as he passed away on July 28, 1907. The company was taken over by his two brothers in the absence of any offspring, but this did not cause a break in the production supply tasks.
Following World War II, up until nationalization in 1950, the plant vegetated in a state of suspended animation, and employed only four people. Production started up again in 1951, and Törley became the country’s sole sparkling wine factory, under the supervision of the Unicum Liqueur Factory.
Törley advertisement from ~1905 (photo: mindmegette.hu)
This period of the Törley company’s history saw a great deal of change. The company entered into a series of mergers, first in 1960 with Hungaria, and then in 1973 with Hungarovin. The company was further expanded when Hungarovin restarted the operation of the François winery in 1982, while in 1986 they acquired the George Villa factory, and in 1995 they obtained 99% ownership of BB. The main profile of the same factories will always remain the production sparkling wine, but thanks to their growth they can orient towards the production of wine and of non-alcoholic beverages.
Törley Holding was established in 2005, and thereafter, it merged with Szent István Korona, which was created by the transformation of Hungarovin and György-Villa, acquiring first Walton in 2010 then François winery in 2013. Finally, in 2014 Hungaria also merged with Törley, which is still holding its market leading position in Hungary; that year, sales fell slightly, making the company’s net sales “only” HUF 16.1 billion.
With its great success and its aromatic, sparkling products, it’s no wonder that the sparkling wine has been added to the list of Hungaricums. The way Mihály Vörösmarty illustrates sparkling wine in his poetry, we can immediately envision the ascending bubbles of Törley sparkling wine soaring toward the sky: