The bubbles in wine don’t appear via incantations. They appear via several different winemaking methods, but all with something in common: trapping CO2 in a liquid, which gives spritz. It’s almost certain that the very first examples of sparkling wine, hundreds of years ago, were made via what is traditionally known as the méthode ancestrale, affectionately dubbed the pét-nat method: French for pétillant naturel; naturally sparkling.
Champagne, 'traditional fermentation' and 'tank/transfer method' wines, as they’re known, are usually (not always, but 99% of the time) made by adding lab-cultured yeast and sugar to a still wine, to restart fermentation. For winemakers who want to make wines as naturally as possible, and who ferment their wines using the natural yeasts present on the skins of the grapes, this seems like a paradox. However - by bottling wines that still have some natural sugar from the grapes remaining in the liquid - essentially half-fermented wines - the wine continues its fermentation inside the bottle. The process of fermentation turns the sugar in the grapes into alcohol and CO2. If the wine is bottled under crown cap (like a beer cap) with the correct calculations of sugar/pressure (it’s actually a very mathematical process), the wine should ferment happily in the bottle without any explosions occurring, resulting in a dry wine with no or very little sugar left, and a lovely fizz. This is pét-nat, and it’s the most natural way to make sparkling wine. It leaves yeast sediments within the bottle, which the winemaker will either keep (which means it will be cloudy) or remove via a process called disgorgement.
These days, the pét-nat category has exploded, pun intended. What was once considered a slightly obscure ancient method of producing bubbles in southwest France has taken the entire world by storm - these bottles are now easy to find in all countries and are a more affordable alternative to their traditional method counterparts, and tend to be far more exciting than tank-produced wines.
Every winemaker who makes pét-nat has their own stories about how they discovered the style and how they make theirs. Alwin and Stefanie Jurtschitsch were some of the early adopters of the new wave of pét-nat, and collaborated with their winemaker friends Martin & Anna Arndorfer, who had also been intrigued by the style, to start a pét-nat-only project, Fuchs und Hase.
We spoke to Alwin to find out more:
LITTLEWINE: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Alwin. How did Fuchs und Hase come about?
ALWIN: Well, we began making sparkling wine in 2007, with Grüner Veltliner. Stefanie and I had a big discussion about whether we should start or not, as our goal had always been to make wines with the smallest human impact possible. When we visited Champagne, everyone told us that we must add sugar and yeast to make sparkling wine, and we said, nah… come on… why the hell do we need do that? We have natural yeasts in the vineyards, on the grapes, and we have sugar in the grapes. So, in 2012, when we were making a Grüner Brut Nature, Stefanie went to the barrel mid-fermentation, bottled around 300 bottles, and closed them with a crown crap - just to see if the natural first fermentation would continue in the bottle. It was one of hundreds of trials, we have a room for trials that’s filled with bottles! We put it there. At the time, there was so much other stuff going on and so much to do, so we never checked them.
LITTLEWINE: What happened?!
ALWIN: Two years later, I really needed to get away from Austria for a bit; it can be a bit narrow at times. I needed some inspiration. So, I called my friend James Erskine in the Adelaide Hills and said, "Hey, I want to buy a ticket and come to you to help for the harvest.” He said sure thing, and so a week later I was in the Adelaide Hills and harvest started. One day, he said, "we need to bottle the pét-nat." I was like… "okay, interesting. Tell me more." I had honestly never heard of pét-nat before!
LITTLEWINE: Haha! So did you realise this is what you had inadvertently done?
ALWIN: Exactly! I rang Stefanie and said, "hey, guess what we did today? We made pét-nat!" Stephanie had also never heard about it, but we realised - this is the same thing we did two years ago. So, I asked her to go and find one of those bottles and to open it.
LITTLEWINE: And when would you serve your pét-nat - it’s often seen as a party wine, but what about food?
ALWIN: One time, I was in Osaka in Japan with a group of well-known Austrian winemakers. We were served the restaurant’s signature dish - just a small piece of tuna - without wasabi or anything else. All the winemakers wanted to show their best wine - they really managed to destroy this little piece of fish. The tuna tasted wonderful, but it wasn't intense or full of aromas - rather it was very understated. This Japanese culture of not being perfect, but being handmade, and knowing where your product comes from, that made me realise how I want to treat my wines. The loudest or biggest one doesn't win. The pét-nats fit into this - they are understated, sparkling wines of simplicity.
LITTLEWINE: Thank you Alwin. We know one thing for sure - we have a craving for tuna and pét-nat.
And so, Fuchs und Hase was born. 'Fuchs' means 'fox 'in German, and 'hase' means 'hare.' This is a nod to an old Austrian saying, where the fox and hare say goodnight, which refers to a remote place surrounded by forest.
In their first year of creating the wines, Anna, Martin, Stefanie and Alwin began looking at which of their vineyard sites would produce the most exciting sparkling wines. This meant areas of higher elevation, which produces fruit with more acid. Without realising, the parcels they had both chosen were all from vineyards surrounded by forests.
Each vintage sees new editions produced from varieties such as Grüner Veltliner, Muskateller, Welschriesling, Zweigelt and Riesling, forming varying blends depending on the vintage conditions.