I hadn’t seen nor heard from Ronn Wiegand in a long time, so I was pleased to receive an email from him a few months back.
He is one of the few people in the world who are both Master of Wine and Master Sommelier. The guy knows the ins and outs — and then some — on all things viticultural and enological.
Ronn has written about wine, consulted with wineries and restaurants and also taught wine classes in conjunction with Napa Valley College. He’s publisher as well, of Restaurant Wine, a publication aimed at restaurateurs and their sommeliers.
His email was an invitation to visit the Tokaj wine region of Hungary. He informed me he had been living in Tokaj for several years, had married a woman whose family has vineyards and a winery in Tokaj. And he informed me, as a proud papa, that he was father of two young children.
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Ronn also indicated he’d be in the Napa Valley in late February and early March; so I invited him to stop by with his new family so we could catch up and share his good fortune with others.
As part of his continuing wine pursuits, Ronn attended Napa Valley Vintners’ winter trade auction the last weekend of February. He comes to the states two or three times a year, tasting through an average of 1,000 wines per visit, all part of the ongoing Restaurant Wine recommendations and observations.
He and his wife, Hajnalka Pracser, and their 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Kamilla, and 1-year-old son, Richard, dropped by the Napa Valley Register during their most recent month-long visit.
Of course, we wanted to know how Ronn wound up in Hungary, married and the father of two youngsters.
His wife — who likes to be called Hajni (pronounced hoy-knee) — came to the Napa Valley as part of the Hungarian-American Enterprise Scholarship Fund and wound up working for Treasury Wine Estates, at both Chateau St. Jean and Beringer Vineyard.
While living and working locally, Hajni wanted to learn more about Napa Valley and other California wines, so she enrolled in Ronn’s course along with a few Beringer folks who were regulars at his classes. The two hit it off, and when Hajni returned home at the end of 2007, the two kept in touch. Ronn traveled to Tokaj four times over the ensuing two years “to keep the relationship going,” he said during the recent visit. He moved to Hungary in 2010, and the couple married two years later.
Not only was Ronn in love with this young woman but it seemed so appropos for him to marry into a wine family.
His wife’s parents, now semi-retired, founded the family winery in 1989 “when the Communists left,” Ronn said. The winery — Erzebet Pince (Elizabeth Cellars) — is named for his mother-in-law. His father-in-law made the wines for more than two decades and has turned over day-to-day operations to his son, winemaker Miklos, and daughter, Hajni, also a trained winemaker, who sees to sales, marketing and hospitality aspects of the business today. She has masters degrees in economics and American literature, and is working on her Ph.D. Winery production totals 9,000 bottles annually.
Although the Pracser family is “more than capable” of running a wine operation, “I’m an additional voice,” Ronn said. “I sat in on my first blending session and they appreciated my (suggestions for the) blends.
“I have a worldly point of view, and I bring in wines from around the world for them to taste. Now I have my finger on all the wines they make — nine each year. I also help with marketing ... well, I make suggestions.”
But that’s not all Ronn is up to in Tokaj. He said that his wife’s parents had renovated an old inn where they located winery offices and allowed him and his wife to open a coffee roasting company and coffee shop.
“I spent a year in the ’90s studying coffee,” he said, “and I studied coffee roasting with an independent roaster from the Midwest. My wife also manages that business.”
They opened the coffee shop and roastery last October in the village of Tokaj, which has about 5,000 inhabitants. Tourism is a big part of Tokaj’s focus.
While here on business, Ronn also spent some time with his 29-year-old twins from his first marriage. Both are screenwriters in Los Angeles.
About the invitation. I accepted and what I found in Tokaj is the subject of a two-part series starting on these pages today.