The secret of the “Rabiatperle”: Uhudler vermouth of the Freimeisterkollektiv
Forbidden fruits should taste sweeter and somehow more appealing. Uhudler, a unique wine cultivated in a small Austrian region between southern Burgenland and eastern Styria, has been subject to repeated bans and restrictions. Even today, it is only permitted because it is not classified as a wine per se, but rather as a “fruit wine”. Lisa Bauer transforms this regional and occasionally outlawed specialty into a vermouth for the Freimeisterkollektiv.
Intense aromas of strawberry and black currant create the characteristic taste of the Uhudler. The grape varieties used are highly resistant to phylloxera and other diseases. Uhudler is made from several types ungrafted hybrid grape varieties. The varieties used are hybrids developed from crosses between the European species Vitis vinifera with the North American Vitis labrusca and Vitis riparia. It is the Vitis labrusca that gives the wine its signature strawberry taste. This aroma is also called “foxy”, long considered a derogatory term.
Offerings and buried toads
Uhudler hails from the days of the great phylloxera infestation of 1860. The aphid arrived in Austria in the second half of the 19th century. In a scenario resembling the script of a horror film, the pests came along with imports from America and destroyed almost all the grapevines of Europe. Whole wine-growing regions were deprived of their economic mainstay, threatening the very livelihoods of vintners. Within a few years, wine production was reduced to a fraction of its previous output.
With no sign of a solution, desperation grew. Offerings and prayers to the old pagan gods and toads buried near rotten vines proved to be as unsuccessful against the invasion as other “miracle cures” such as cow urine, powdered tobacco, whale oil and countless others. Renowned scientist Louis Pasteur was appointed by the French Ministry of Agriculture as head of a phylloxera commission. However, he too was unsuccessful.
After many failed attempts to halt the devastating pandemic, pest-resistant North American vines were imported into Europe for wine production, including some of those now used in Uhudler. Hybrid direct carrier varieties were created during this time, through numerous crossbreeds between North American and European grape varieties. However, the results did not always appeal to established European tastes. It took the groundbreaking discovery of Jules Émile Planchon, who grafted European Vitis vinifera vines onto the phylloxera resistant rootstocks of American vine species, to save European wine culture.
The popular “Rabiatperle”
After the phylloxera invasion was ended, by grafting European vines onto resistant American roots, the unpopular direct carrier varieties fell into disrepute. To damage the reputation of North American vine wines, it was claimed that they contained high levels of methanol and were dangerous to drink. Uhudler was dubbed the “Rabiatperle” (“rabid pearl” in the local dialect), as it was said to make the drinker particularly aggressive. Bans and restrictions on its cultivation and sale resulted and, as is so often the case, led to an increase in popularity.
For winemaker Lisa Bauer, who tends her grandmother’s Uhudler vines, it was a special challenge to transform the typically intense strawberry note of this acidic wine into a harmonious vermouth.
Wild Strawberry | Rose | Lemon Balm
Strawberry | Cherry | Melon | Cotton Candy
Floral | Fresh | Subtle Bitterness
- Fermentation by Freimeister
- Pot still
- Fractionating column
- Barrel aging
Wormwood, Lemon Balm, Licorice, Orange Blossom, Elderberry, Lemongrass, Sugar, Uhudler, contains Sulphites
Before she can distill however, she must first make a wine from the Uhudler grapes. Once this Uhudler mash begins fermenting, interruption is impossible. “I tried that a few years ago and failed miserably,” she says. “When Uhudler is fermenting, it has its own dynamics. During spontaneous fermentation, one can see that other yeast strains are active. To stop this, you would have to put it in the freezer.” Uhudler ferments down to 1 gram of residual sugar and the infamous “foxy” aroma, of strawberry and wild berries, already becomes apparent during fermentation. At this point, it is important to remove the wine immediately from the yeast and pour it into a stainless steel tank. Uhudler clarifies very well. As Lisa explains, a 1,000 liter tank, without filtration, will produce a very fine wine with very little cloudiness after four or five weeks.
The herbs for the maceration are selected by Lisa with consideration for the characteristic berry flavours of the Uhudler. In addition to bitter wormwood and gentian root, the fruity components of the Uhudler are emphasized with liquorice root, lemon balm, orange and elderflower blossoms and lemongrass.
Distiller, Winemaker | Fehring, Styria
Lisa Bauer grew up in the Styrian volcanic region, the daughter of a winemaking family. The Bauers run a small mixed farm here, along with a “Buschenschank” tavern typical to the region, serving self-pressed wines and cold dishes.
Lisa received her initial training in the College of Viticulture Silberberg, Styria and later graduated with A-Levels and a Bachelor degree from the Federal College of Viticulture and Pomology in Klosterneuburg, near Vienna. In addition to studying viticulture and oenology, she has acquired extensive expertise in fruit processing, mashing and distillation. She had already been familiar with distilling since her childhood, when the homegrown fruits of the family farm would be distilled in a small 90-liter pot still.
As an intern at a Mallorcan wine estate, Lisa learned to make gin in the associated distillery. Following her apprenticeship, she was employed as a distiller in a big distillery, which processed up to 2 million kilos of pears, plums and apricots annually. In 2016, she worked at a winery in Casablanca, Chile and in a bodega in Argentina. There she was involved in setting up the new Casa Tapaus distillery, which distilled the pomace of the winery for grappa, and she was also responsible for the development of its first gin.
At the end of that year, Lisa returned to Austria and founded her own gin brand. She wants, as she emphasizes, “to distill opulent gins that stay in your memory. Lots of juniper and many botanicals should create a complex taste pattern.”
Due to her excellent education and many years of experience, Lisa Bauer is already a true connoisseur of aromas and herbs. She creates recipes like a perfumier, planning in advance exactly which aromas and drugs are needed for the perfect composition.
For Freimeisterkollektiv, Lisa developed her first vermouth.