Filip Nagy: The Time, The Place, The Human
Interview with the driving force behind Zlatý Roh winery and 7 riadkov and one of the most interesting (and closest to my heart) members of the Czecho-Slovak wine scene.
Last month in our newsletter, I lauded the qualities of Filip's winemaking and personality through a bottle of one of the Zlatý Roh cuvées that he is the author of. As I was insisting on the fact that knowing the person whose wine you drink always makes things come full circle, I realised that the best way to get more people acquainted with Filip's thoughts and humour is the most obvious and fun one: make him the next winemaker I chat with in our ongoing series of interviews with colleagues whose work intrigues me.
So here we go, ladies, gentlemen and everyone in between, meet my friend and one of the most interesting growers and humans on the Czecho-Slovak wine scene, Filip Nagy, the winemaker of Zlatý Roh & his own boutique project called 7 riadkov (7 rows).
Words by Milan Nestarec & Lucie Kohoutová / Images courtesy of Zlatý Roh & Filip Nagy
What led you to wine? What was the path to where you are today like?
After graduating from high school, I decided to study winemaking and viticulture at Mendel University in Brno. I was driven by a very strong emotion from my grandfather. To this day, he still makes a few dozen litres of wine from a hybrid grown on trelisses of his front porch in Nizne Nemecké, my great-grandparents' village on the Slovak-Ukrainian border. The emotion of harvesting and making wine there is deeply imprinted in me, it resonates to this day. I have fond memories of the family time together.
It was always an occasion I looked forward to, like the traditional winter pig slaughter or Christmas. Also, during high school, I got very interested in wine, grapes, their history and the culture of wine growing that has been part of our history since time immemorial. At the time, I was choosing which college to go to and I chose wine and viticulture as my life's mission and goal.
The big change came in the second year when the lessons moved from Brno to Lednice. There I understood that I wanted to devote myself to cultivation and production. I was lucky enough to get an offer to rent a vineyard, together with my very good friend Jan Slančar. It was the start of the original 7 rows winery, and I still take care of this vineyard today. Just before graduation, I got a job offer to manage a project in Devín... and so I did. Years go by and I am here and grateful.
Why are you making wine? What are you able to give to wine and what does wine give to you?
I would like to humbly answer that making wine is the best thing in this world and that I want to do it. I like wine and I like thinking about it. Wine is a material thing that captures three things if it is made sincerely. Time, place and human. Without the human, wine can't be made. Sincerity carries the imprint of time and place. That is a wonderful thing. Few things in the world today capture these aspects while creating such a powerful positive experience as wine does. That, for me, is the balance between what wine gives me and what I give to wine. Wine gives my life meaning, and I give to wine what I can.
What is the journey of 7 riadkov - your "cross-border" winery?
7 Riadkov was created, as I mentioned before, as a joint student project in Moravia, in the Modré Hory micro-region. When I moved to Devín, Slovakia after school to take care of the Zlatý Roh project, we naturally added a Slovak "branch" of 7 Riadkov. It has then organically grown into a boutique winery. Honza's and my path have diverged since so now it's only me tending to the "7 rows".
What has this journey brought you and where is it going next?
It taught me that you don't want to have vineyards in two states. You know full well that a vineyard needs attention and it's not good to spread oneself too thin. It forces you to be more dynamic and flexible, sometimes you miss an important moment in the season and a lost week of care leads to difficult decisions. On the other hand, the opportunity to work on multiple terroirs is extremely enriching.
In retrospect, I feel it has taught me to appreciate different terroir nuances. Grapes and must behave differently based on where they come from. At the end of the day, the grower and winemaker are just guides and the pace is set by location, weather and nature. So the direction is clearly set and I can only adapt to what they lay in front of me each year. I don't want to push it.
At the same time, you create wines for Zlatý Roh, winery located in a place with amazing terroir and history. What does the place and working with its owner bring you?
In which century should I even start? The history of the place is very rich, we could talk about ancient Rome... Devín has long been an important point on the viticultural map. Historical maps from the end of the 19th century with vineyard names in both Hungarian and German are proof of this. We respect and use these in our own work, to reflect the history of the place.
After the fall of communism in 1989, nobody showed any interest in the vineyards so the place experienced an extreme contrast – the vineyards were all neglected and overgrown until the arrival of Zlatý Roh in 2015. Working with Patrik [Tkáč, the owner of the winery] brings me the opportunity to rediscover a very interesting terroir. It brings me the possibility to look after both the soil and the vineyards as best as I can imagine. We are certified organic and apply biodynamic practices to allow the terroir to express itself naturally.
Do you work differently when creating wines for Zlatý Roh and 7 rows? Or is it just a matter of terroir?
Yes, I do work a little differently. I have now an understanding of the Zlatý Roh stylistics, although it's still a work in progress. I had the idea of its style and I'm fulfilling this vision, but we're not dogmatic and we're adapting to the circumstances. I know what I want the wine to look like, though. In contrast, the vision of 7 rows is not to have a vision, and I stick to that.
Still, is there anything you want to focus on in the future?
In the future, I would like to focus on Dua Lipa. I wrote to her manager asking where to send her wine, but I didn't get a reply. I'm listening to her as am working on my answers to your questions. As for the future of wine, my only vision is to keep working, thinking and feeling what I do.
You're a big fan of Blaufrankisch, just like me. We also share the effort of planting it ungrafted, without American rootstock. What was your motivation for this?
Our ungrafted Blaufrankisch is a vision of a vineyard on a plot where I originally couldn't see one. I didn't like it. I changed my perspective slightly; Loic Pasquet, a grower of own-rooted vineyards in Bordeaux, inspired me. I started to think differently about how to turn a negative into a positive.
The site has almost zero topsoil and is based on eroded granite. Ideal turf for my idea of own-rooted Blaufrankisch planting. I have shied away from planting this grape for quite a while – this variety is very close to my heart, and I was waiting for something special. This place seemed interesting and 'special' enough to choose "Frankovka" and plant it ungrafted there.
What are your thoughts on acquiring the planting material using selection massale?
Massale is an extremely interesting way to recreate vineyards. If it is done internally and nobody steals from anybody, you can select while searching for quality elements. In our case, however, there was a petty theft from Burgundy... so we planted a hectare of Pinot. I won't and can't say any more about it.
PS: best regards to DRC.
You work your vineyards with the help of two horses which is certainly a very challenging thing to do, but also my dream. Do you have other animals?
I am the biggest animal [laughs]. We also keep livestock in Zlatý Roh - we have Jersey cows, a herd of goats, and horses. Of course, there's also poultry, and last but not least, we have bees. The workhorses we work with are called Uriah and Barin. These horses mainly deal with agricultural work while the rest of the work is left to the human hand. Now I have to express the emotion that it is worth it. It is worth it.
How would you describe your philosophy when helping the wines to be born?
For me, winemaking is the transformation of grapes into liquid. But growing grapes is translating one's life philosophy and worldview into matter. Hard to understand, hard to grasp, easy to drink.
What inspires you? What do you devote your time to outside of wine and winemaking?
I drink what I can, and sometimes I try to understand it and take what I can from it. The synthesis of this information influences my future work.
What do I do outside of wine?
- I like to have a drink with friends who are sometimes inspiring, but mostly not
- I like to put on a record
- I like to have a beer and roasted almonds
- I like to ride my bike
- I like to smoke a pipe
- I like to browse the Prim watch secondhand markets
- I like to watch Black Books
- I like to listen to '80s music.
What wines do you like to drink? Please name some names.
Don't do this to me. It's an extremely long list. I'm glad that I live in a time when there are so many wines to choose from on our small Czech and Slovak scene and, of course, all around the world. I just drink what we both enjoy, honest wines from honest winemakers and not bullshit.
When will we execute our dream project – to harvest grapes for one barrel of wine in a different place on Earth each year and create it there?
I'm ready. You?
What is the future of wine? In which direction should our industry evolve?
This is a big question that I can't really answer because I haven't thought about it that much. The future is unclear. I hope that good wine will be an everyday purchase for the "average guy". In the short term, great things will happen and there will be a huge revolution. People will want local, honest and distinctive products.
In the long term, wine is an afterthought and we are all going to die. I fear that we are going to experience time when we will not be dealing with whether we have good wine, but whether we have the basic raw materials. We will be going through a difficult time of complex issues like climate change and the like.
Is wine art?
Wine is a commodity. Wine is food. Wine is art. You have to choose what you want to consume.