Importer of the Week: László Zupan

„The only way is to produce a unique product with local grape varieties and styles.”

Country: United Kingdom
Company: The Drunk Maitre D Ltd.
Labels so far: Tóth Ferenc Winery (Eger), Gál Lajos Winery (Eger), Wunderlich (Villány), Stier (Villány), Gere Tamás & Zsolt (Villány), Dolium (Villány), Hímesudvar (Tokaj)

When a young wanderer settles down

– Your previous experiences are well described on your website. Luxury hotel in Budapest, ocean cruise jobs, then London. Why did you settle down in the UK?

– I am asked this question frequently in the restaurant where I am working as a sommelier. I always say that „After 6 years on the sea, I have decided to settle on the land. So I called all my girlfriends around the world and the one in Norwich responded!” Of course, that’s just a joke, but the truth is not far. My fiancé was living here, so I settled here as well.

– As a bartender, barista, mixologist and sommelier, you have a great amount of choices. How important is wine in your life? Do you remember your first encounter with wines?

My first encounter I would say was, when I went with some friends to Villány for a weekend and visited 3 different wineries. Back then, I did not know anything about wine, I was just enjoying the tasting and my company. In my professional career as a bar manager wine was only a „must know the basics” part of my job. But I was always more interested in seeking ways to improve myself and widen my knowledge. I made my WSET level 2 in 2012 on the ocean cruiser and finished level 3 just recently. I am doing Level 4 right now, so I would say wine is playing a very important role in my life.

Villány was the beginning

– You sell quite a lot of labels, though Villány is maybe more emphasised than other wine regions. Is Villány your favourite?

Villány was the first region I started sourcing wines. Simply, because I thought they have a very strong presence on the Hungarian market and the quality and price ratio will be suitable for the English market. Fortunately, at that time I did not know exactly what I am up against, since than I would not have started the business. But I did! And I feel we are at the beginning of an area where Hungarian wines could defiantly find their place on the European market. The overall demand of wine is increasing, and so does the production as well. The average wine drinker is more interested in quality for a good price, than overpriced wines with big names on their labels. I have many labels from Villány, because more wineries were interested in the English market, than in other regions. Although, there were wineries in Villány who told me straight away, that they are happy just to be present on the Hungarian market, since they sell enough wine. And I do understand them.

– How do you pick the wines for your portfolio? I guess you do not import, but buy it from an importer, am I right? Or do you import yourself?

I do import myself. I am doing everything manually in the company. Starting from the sourcing plan for the year, throughout making contact with the suppliers, arranging shipping, importing and storing of the wines till the marketing and selling. The goal of the enterprise remains the same: to deliver handpicked great quality wines for the best possible price.

– How often do you go to Hungary? Do you visit wineries? What was the last good experience and why?

I travel at least once a year to Hungary and each year I visit at least one winery. My most recent good experience was at the Gál winery in Eger. Where Dr. Lajos Gál teacher and winemaker hosted my friends and myself and showed us excellent wines! Which will be soon available in our portfolio. To be honest I tasted the first Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) at his winery, which I liked. But obviously taste is subjective.

A Chablis at 6 GBP is hard to beat…

– Would you like to widen your portfolio? If yes, what wines do you plan to include?

– Yes, the portfolio will be widened! I am planning to make contact with some wineries near lake Balaton; Badacsony, Csopak. Just to secure my „dominance” on the U.K. market as having the largest selection of Hungarian wines. Apart from sourcing some excellent wines as well, of course. After that I feel that the Hungarian market is exhausted from the view of the company and we will move on to other countries.

– How about your webshop customers? What are the top selling products?

– Until now I didn’t have to replenish any of the wines I am offering, which means I would not make any conclusions. But the company is still young, and the main marketing campaign did not start yet. But I would say the tastings are the top sellers. Closely followed by the Tokaji Aszú and heavy reds from Villány. Which is not a surprise at all.

– I can see that you frequently organize Hungarian wine tastings. What kind of audience is interested in Hungarian wines? What are their impressions?

– Well, feedbacks on the quality of the wines are good. But unfortunately, at the end it all seems to conclude to the same: there are a lot of well known brands and regions, that provide same quality wine for a lower or same price. It’s impossible to beat a £ 6 Chablis, or New Zealand sauvignon blanc. The only way I see for the Hungarian wines is to produce a unique product, with local grape varieties and styles.

The Drunk Maitre’D sells six wines from Tóth Ferenc family winery, Eger from the Mundus Vini gold winning Leányka to the super complex Várvédő red wine

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