Meet Imre Halász and Ellie Bauwens, the dynamic couple behind Indigo’s newest additions: Holass. We recently caught up with them to learn about their project that aims to bring the great terroirs of Hungary and Austria to the attention of the world.
Like many artisan winemakers, Holass is a project with strong connections to the land, translating the unique character of the vineyards they work with. What makes them different is how they do it.
Holass has no winery. Nor do they own vineyards. They aren’t tied to a single site or region. Instead, their production is based on collaboration with like-minded wineries and growers who practice traditional winemaking techniques. Holass work with a small vineyard or parcel provided by different winemakers across Hungary and Austria to make their own wine. Each one uniquely expressive; but together, the wines explores the terroirs of this area more broadly.
On paper Holass are negociants. They describe themselves as a collective, emphasising the strong sense of community central to their work. In reality, they are a new breed of winemaker, offering an alternative approach to viewing, making and selling wine.
But how did they get come up with this alternative winemaking model? Well, like all good stories, it starts with romance.
Ellie and Imre met at Prowein in 2014. Ellie was working for a Belgian wine distributor; Imre for an Austrian winery. Neither knew that this chance connection would eventually lead to both a personal and professional partnership.
Inspired by a shared love for wine, making their own seemed like a natural next step: ‘we wanted to do something with wine. It’s what we love most’. So, during a trip to Imre’s native Hungary, that they seized the opportunity to work with an abandoned vineyard in Sumeg. The outcome was their first HOLASS wine, a rosé blend of Kékfrankos and Olaszrisling that they sold through Ellie’s contacts in Belgium over the summer of 2016.
Their fun foray into winemaking was a huge success, and the buzz it generated brought them to the attention of other producers. This paved the way for Holass’ collaborative model of winemaking.
Since then, their portfolio has grown. Today Ellie and Imre work with five producers across Hungary and Austria. They work exclusively with local varieties from historically important Hungarian wine regions: Sopron and Tokaj. They also produce wine from Burgenland, which sits on the Austrian-Hungarian border. Although officially a part of Austria since 1921, its widely viewed as a significant area in Hungary’s wine heritage. Other producers, such as Peter Wetzer, also work across this historically permeable border. Capturing this history and sense of origin is important for Imre and Ellie – they want to tell the story of where these wines come from.
Their wines are mostly single vineyard bottlings made in small batches. Each winery they collaborate with has a vineyard or parcel specially reserved for Holass. Imre describe this arrangement as being “a winery in the wineries”. He visits each site he works with almost every month, paying careful attention to each stage of the grape growing and winemaking process. Even after the wines are in barrel, he and Ellie are directly involved and constantly check in on the wine – “they can change dramatically over a short period of time”. However, Ellie says that this nomadic lifestyle suits Imre; “he loves it. He has gypsy blood”.
In the vineyard, the focus is on healthy, high-quality grapes. According to Imre, this is critical for producing wines with minimal sulphur. For this reason, they choose to work organically with little to no machinery in the vineyards and winery, often bottling directly from the barrel by hand. There’s no cookie-cutter winemaking in the winery either; Imre brings what he considers the optimal approach to each vineyard and variety.
One of the most interesting examples of this is the Balf and the Sopron. These two Kékfrankos come from the same vineyard, separated only by 500m in elevation. However, this seemingly trivial shift in altitude offers startling juxtapositions in character, with small changes in the soils and fruit from each site yielding two very distinct wines, both complex expressions of the region’s native variety.
This connection to the land is powerful theme recurrent Holass’ wines, which take their names from geographical indications of their origin – a region, a town, a river. Their aim is to show the kind of wines these places can produce.
Click here to learn more about Holass and their range of terroir-driven wines. Drop us a line of you’d like to try them.