The history of the Gönc barrel

"If there is something that is praised all over the world, it is above all Tokaj wine, it has achieved its appreciation in all parts of the world... because it is full of so many good qualities that no other wine can surpass it either in taste or nobility" - wrote Mátyás Bél around 1730 in his ViniculturaTokajiensis.

The extensive international trade of Tokaj wine, affecting "all parts of the world", was initially carried out by the larger land and vineyard owners in the area, as well as by Greek merchants who settled in small market towns. The first Jewish wine merchants settled in Tokaj in the 17th century, and in the second half of the 18th century large numbers immigrated from Silesia and Galicia. Although they tried to hinder their commercial activities, over time they pushed the "Greeks" more and more into the background. 

One of the main trade routes for Tokaj wine led north to Poland and the Russian Tsarist court. Historical sources prove that Tokaj wine was offered by the barrel on festive occasions at the Tsar's court as early as the beginning of the 17th century. One of the main admirers of Tokaj wine was "the Tsar of all Russians", Péter Nagy (1689-1725), who was not only a great reformer, but also a big drinker, and in addition to vodka, he mainly enjoyed Tokaj wine. Tokaj wines played a major role in the reigns of Péter I and II. Also in the preparation and signing of the contract between Ferenc Rákóczi in 1707.

The wine arrived at the tsar's court via Kiev to Moscow or the Vistula by land route, by cart, and from there it was transported by ship to Danzig (Gdansk) and St. Petersburg. Due to the difficulties of distance, transportation and public safety, they also experimented with the introduction of Tokaj-type viticulture in Russia.

In 1714, to facilitate the growing wine trade, Tsar Peter I sent Captain Paraszkevics from a Greek merchant family and bodyguard officer Korsakov to Tokaj to buy wine for the Tsar's court. This trade representation survived even after the death of Péter I, and even from the 1730s onwards, the entire "Russian colony" handled the purchase of Tokaj wines. The fact that the members of the colony - to whom some historians later attributed a political role - did not necessarily respect and comply with the Hungarian laws in force was the source of many scandals and lawsuits. The last resident of the Wine Buyer's Committee, who also rented a house in Tokaj, Captain SzavvaGorev, who married a Reformed girl from Mádi, left Tokaj in 1799.

As a result of the specialization of industries and services serving viticulture according to settlements, the barrel-making center of the wine region was the market town of Gönc. The capacity of the Gönc barrel, which is also considered as a measure of wine capacity in Tokaj-Hegyalján, changed several times throughout history, until it finally decreased to 160 icce, i.e. 135.75 liters, by the 19th century. In the cellars of the wine region, the wine is still aged in such large barrels. A half-barrel from Gönc was used for the aging and transport of aszú, which was also called an average barrel.

The Gönc barrel is made of stemless oak from Zemplén, previously with wooden, and gradually iron tires from the 19th century. The medium-hard, wear-resistant, high tannic acid content of "Zemplén oak" as an excellent base material for barrels has long been known not only locally, but also in the international wine industry. The wood of the barrel significantly influences the maturation process of the wine and has a positive effect on its color and aroma as well.

The Gönc barrel was longer and narrower than other Hungarian barrel types, which mainly served the purposes of long-distance wine trade and better use of space. A barrel cart usually held 3 Gönc barrels.