An interview with Helga Gál, Senior Advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade by Mathilde Hulot
You’ve been travelling a lot to expand the notoriety of the Hungarian wines. How did you succeed in being the senior advisor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Although I was brought up in a rural environment with my family, in North-East of Hungary, it’s in Italy that I’ve grew up concerning the wine culture. My brother, Tibor studied winemaking at the university and went to work in Tuscany. I followed him and discovered the great vineyards belonging to big families, Antinori, Frescobaldi, and so on, with the respect and the knowledge transmitted through generations. It was very new for me. Meanwhile, I learned Italian, than English. My brother founded his winery in Eger (Hungary), in 1993, later on, I came home from Italy and I also started a to work as a sommelier in the Gundel restaurant in Budapest, in 1996. Then I travelled around the World, as an export manager, first working for Tüzkö Winery (that time called European Wine producers, Eurobor) still belonging to Antinori. After this I represented in many international wine exhibitions a group of producers (Tiffán, Gere, Bock, Tibor Gál, Szeremley, Árvay, Szepsy) belonging to the Pannon Winemakers Guild, created in 1998. With the death of my brother this period ended in 2005. It was a huge tragedy for this small wine community; it was hard to restart without him…
From here on I was working as an advisor and I worked also from 2008 until 2010 in a cruise ship in the United States of America, called Celebrity. When I came back to Hungary, I was hired by the Ministry of Agriculture, at the same time Hungary took over the Presidency of the European Commission. Ending the presidency I was asked to continue this activity at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That’s how I became the wine and gastronomic advisor for the Ministry. My job is to promote Hungarian wine and gastronomy throughout the World. We can say that our ministry is the biggest “exporter” of Hungarian wines with nearly 140 countries!
What happens when, as a Hungarian Wine Ambassador, you pronounce the word Tokaj in a tasting in London or Tokyo?
Tokaj is really famous and this name is everywhere is well known. People don’t always know that it’s in Hungary though… They put it somewhere on the map in Europe. Behind the word Tokaj, they know the word Aszú, they associate it to sweet wines, noble rot, but most of them don’t know the difference with Ice wines and mix it with Spanish or Portuguese dessert wines many times. That’s why we organize tastings and explain the specificities of each wine.
What is your vision of the Confrérie and its activities since its new start in 2012?
It’s a beautiful concept that needs first of all to be understood by the producers themselves participating in the Auction and the members of the Confrérie. Altogether, with the help of every single member, it’s a tool that can bring Tokaj very far. I was amazed when I saw that a huge part of the international wine World was missing at the last Auction! This event should bring as much clients and wine consumers and buyers in Hegyalja. As a Wine Ambassador, I suggest that the wines of Tokaj should be represented in many countries. To achieve this, with the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Hungarian Embassies will open their doors welcoming the activity of the Confrérie. Let’s start a new era.