History

Inspired by Desiderius Pongrácz, a nobleman and refugee from the Hungarian uprising who revolutionised winemaking in the Cape, Pongrácz Méthode Cap Classique has become the country's most adored bottle fermented sparkling wine.

Inspired by Desiderius Pongrácz, a nobleman and refugee from the Hungarian uprising who revolutionised winemaking in the Cape, Pongrácz Méthode Cap Classique has become the country's most adored bottle fermented sparkling wine.

The Man who inspired it

Witty, brilliant and occasionally provocative, Desiderius Pongrácz was a blue blooded Count from the Hungarian aristocracy who chose to live his life as a man of the land pursuing a career in viticulture. During World War II, after graduating from the Hungarian Academy for Agriculture in 1944, instead of returning to the family estate, Desiderius Pongrácz joined the cavalry in the Hungarian army. Shortly after Hungary's surrender, he was captured by the advancing Russians. For nearly a decade, he would toil in the infamous labour camps of Siberia as a prisoner of war, first as a lumberjack and then in the perilous Siberian copper mines. He would later credit these torturous years of drudgery and solitude for instilling in him the zeal for life that would become the hallmark of his character.

Finally, with the war over and his homeland in the steely grip of the Soviet Union, Desiderius Pongrácz was released back to Hungary. During the chaos of the Hungarian revolt he resolved to escape and set his sights on Africa after securing a position as farm manager in Namibia through his connections in the European nobility. In 1958 he relocated to the Stellenbosch winelands where he worked as a farm manager before joining the research institute at Nietvoorbij under Dr Piet Venter in 1963. While at the research institute, he obtained his Master of Science Degree in Agriculture at the University of Stellenbosch.

In 1973, he was appointed Chief Viticultural Advisor at Distillers Corporation. During his 20 odd years in viticulture at the Cape, Pongrácz helped shape the South African wine industry through his intellect, insight, knowledge, innovation, vision and above all, fearless tenacity to pursue what he believed to be right. He had a major influence on the introduction and propagation of premium grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Pinot noir and understood the importance of these and other noble cultivars in the future of the South African wine industry.

Adamant to challenge the status quo that was restricting the quality and number of varietals available in South Africa at the time, Pongrácz lobbied for the importation of new plant material and a change of policy in favour of the careful selection of the best varietals from the best vines to propagate better vineyards. Although it was used widely in Europe, the practice of careful selection was considered very controversial in South Africa at the time when the industry was concerned about importing new material for fear of viruses.

A pioneer in his field, Desiderius Pongrácz quite literally wrote the book on viticulture. He was author of a number of books and produced numerous scientific publications. His definitive book, Practical Viticulture, published in 1978 is still consulted by students today. Written from the premise that truth needs no excuse, Pongrácz openly challenges the restrictive policies of the time. Through his expertise and that of his fellow countryman, Dr Julius Laszlo, within the framework of the Distillers Organisation, innovative producers such as Danie de Wet started planting new premium varieties, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc.

Yet it was not by going by the book that he inspired others. For if science ruled his head, it was his many varied interests that guided his heart including classical music, anthropology and his love for Dachshunds.

Pongrácz died tragically in an accident at the age of 61 while transporting Chardonnay vines to Uityk Estate. While he was in hospital after the accident, Dr Anton Rupert, who was very fond of him, asked Dr Laszlo to visit him every day. He was cremated on 16 August and his ashes were buried on Meerlust Estate. In the wall of the family cemetery there is a simple plague with his name, date of birth and date of death. In an obituary Nico Myburgh, owner of Meerlust at the time, referred to Pongrácz as "a true gentleman and good friend".

Pongracz
+27.218658200