Monday, October 25, 2010

The Esterházy Family: Politics, Culture, and Wine

During the course of the International Masters of Wine (IMW) Austro-Hungarian tasting, the name Esterházy kept popping up -- they had two wines on offer at the tasting; they were featured prominently on the seminar handouts; IMW speakers at the event continually thanked them for their support of the effort; and they had flown their winery chef in from Vienna to oversee the preparation of the lunch which followed the tasting -- and I was intrigued because it was a name with which I was unfamiliar.  I decided to learn a little more about the Esterházys and this post summarizes my discoveries.

The Esterházys were a Hungarian noble family who rose to prominence by dint of the efforts of Count Nikolaus Esterhazy (1583 - 1645) and who owed their steadily increasing wealth and influence to unfailing loyalty to the Catholic Church and the Habsburg Emperors.  The family wealth was based on large land holdings resulting from redistribution of seized Protestant lands, lands won from the Turks in battle, and lands which came into the family as the result of strategic marriages.  The family seat was Esterházy Castle in Eisenstadt, a region that was a part of Hungary until given over to Austria during the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the conclusion of WWI.

The family has long been a supporter and patron of culture and the arts.  The Esterházys were long-time supporters of Joseph Haydn, the famous composer, who served as their choir master from 1762-1790.  Even after he left the royal court in 1790, they continued to pay him a full salary until his death in 1802.  The family's support for the arts and culture continues today through the efforts of the Esterházy Foundation.  The Foundation's resources are drawn from the family's Austrian holdings and includes forestry, property, land and a winery.  The Foundation's cultural section manages its historical properties and art works and supports promising young artists from across the cultural spectrum.

The Esterházy family has a strong winemaking tradition which dates back well over 250 years.  Written records show that the first Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder) cuttings from Burgundy were planted by the family in 1758.  Until the construction of of a new, modern winery in 2006, the winery resided in an old cellar beneath Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt.

In a future post I will look at the Esterházy wines presented at the IWT tasting.

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