The three pillars of the Sauskas’ traditional method sparkling wine concept is: the uniqueness of Tokaj; the new cellar in Budafok with its great attributes for making traditional method sparkling wine; and the alliance between their permanent advisor Régis Camus.
We recently visited the winery’s new cellar in Budafok, which was both a journey and a trip back in time, and we will tell you how the 20-year-old history of the Sauska-Tokaj story started a new chapter.
The story of the Sauska Tokaj winery started more than 20 years ago, naturally mostly with traditional sweet wine and aszú. From the very first minute, the precise, analytical owner and engineer, Krisztián Sauska, has been working on how to better understand the opportunities that lie in Tokaj’s terroir. From 2005, he invited Lydia and Claude Bourgignon, the world’s leading specialist soil-microbiologist couple to Hungary several times – they literary took the plot apart and were amazed by what they saw. Tokaj-Hegyalja has the unique combination of volcanic and limestone soils, of which there are very few examples anywhere else in the world. And from that moment on, it was inevitable that the first Sauska traditional method sparkling wine should be made.
It was also obvious that due to their vibrant minerality, the indigenous Furmint and Hárslevelű grape varieties would give more characteristic dry wines. The challenge of the recent years was to see how the international varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir would do on this diverse volcanic soil. After a six-year long profound and of course still continuing search, the army of traditional method sparkling wines stood up: Furmint, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Hárslevelű. These four varieties give the basis of the Sauska sparklers. The varieties mostly come from four outstanding vineyards: Birsalmás, Úrágya, Istenhegy and Medve. What’s common in them is the soil – the smaller or larger presence of limestone that is inevitable for making traditional method sparkling wines. 2011 was the first vintage in which they consciously picked the grapes for traditional method sparkling wines. The Tokaj winery started buying its own sparkling wine technology in 2015 and 2016, and has been building up since then. An important figure has been Vencel Garamvári, who in the transitory time made the traditional method sparkling wines and helped the winery hugely with his professional skill and experience. Since 2019, the winery has been making the traditional method sparkling wines themselves from their own 100% Tokaj grapes.
Budafok is connected to Gellért Hill by a several-kilometre wide limestone ridge that runs as far as Dunaföldvár. The Sauskas have been shaping the 150-year-old, 10,000 m2 stretch of the Budafok cellar-system since 2015, which together with the neighbouring cellars, had been formerly owned by Hungarovin. The whole cellar system was enormous: it was 16 km long and was able to hold 7.5 million bottles of sparkling wine. Later, similarly to the other Budafok cellars, it went through a troubled phase – there were a Ukrainian distiller and a restauranteur, who planned to turn the cellar into a venue, among its owners. There is also a reason – obviously historical – why they found hidden weapons during the renovation. There were also 30 huge concrete tanks in the branches with the holding capacity of 20,000 hectolitres. One remained as memorabilia.
Budafok is the classic, perfect and most importantly, the natural home of traditional method sparkling wine. The ventilation of the cellar branches is perfect: even today the vents cut into the top of the arches, providing ventilation without any particular mechanical help, thus the temperature in the cellar remains at 12-16 degrees Celsius in every season, and it also has relatively high humidity (80-82%). The base wines that were fermented until dry in Tokaj arrive to the 150-year-old cellar after the blending that is done by a defined proportion. Here, fermentation happens via the traditional method. The traditional method sparkling wines are created here after being aged.
Quality, and in the long run, the style can only be born by transparent work. And Régis Camus, winemaker Gábor Rakaczki and Krisztián Sauska have been working based on this principle, and since 2020, so has Ádám Hanusz, Budafok’s cellar master.
New ‘vintage’ in a new bottle
The development of the new bottles of the traditional method sparkling wines started in 2017, together with a French glass designer. The slim neck doesn’t just have an aesthetic role but it also supports the better keeping and nicer ageing of the traditional method sparkling wine as less oxygen can get into the bottle through a smaller diameter. First, the Brut and the Rosé Brut are arriving in a new gown, later the whole Sauska traditional method sparkling wine family will be put onto the shelves this way.