A Austrian Experiment
A hot summer’s day in 2016 found Julie-Ann Hoch standing in the field, staring out at the organic vineyard she tends with her husband, Christoph Hoch. Unlike the flat, unadorned rows of large commercial vineyards, Julie’s terraced landscape is varied - rolling hills dotted with patches of elderflower trees in full bloom, wild grasses and weeds, and a single pink rose bush capping each row of vines.
Julie and Christoph embraced this biodiversity in their vineyards from their beginnings as farmers. While the industry continues to move towards large, standardized operations, the Hoch Family prizes Nature’s health and balance. A full ecosystem flourishes on their land, with bugs, flowers, herbs, and even animals living amongst the vines.
Julie inhaled the fragrant hot summer air, and took a big swig of iced nettle tea, a refreshing tonic she had prepared from nettles hand-harvested from the edges of her vineyard. Many months under the hot Austrian sun led her to brew this herbal concoction by the gallon, something hydrating and nourishing to drink in the fields.
It was then that an idea hit her: what would happen if she were to combine this refreshing and healthful herbal infusion with her effervescent natural wine?
For a while, Christoph had been encouraging Julie to find her own voice in the wine-making industry, and to try out a project of her own creation. Unsurprisingly, herbal-infused wine wasn’t quite what Christoph had in mind. “It was a crazy idea,” Julie chuckles, thinking back to their early conversations, “totally something new.” Despite an onslaught of questions and uncertainties from others in the wine community- What kind of wine would blend well with the herbal tea? Would the same production process for natural wine hold up? Would the product maintain its integrity when bottled? - Julie set to work, full of enthusiasm and vision.
The first blend she experimented with was a sparkling Grüner Vetliner white wine, infused with tea of elderflower. The elderflower trees blooming in the vineyards were often regarded as a pest by other winemakers. After all, they took up valuable space that could be planted with money-producing grape vines. But, Julie saw promise in the elderflower’s fragrant, floral aroma.
The first batch did not disappoint. Julie and Christoph brought their botanical wine infusion to a few blind tastings with friends. The feedback was unanimous - this new drink was delicious!
But what was it exactly?
The alcohol level was lower than traditional wine. The aromatics were complex, subtle, romantic, and intriguing, in a way wine cannot express itself. The taste was energizing, unlike anything anyone had tasted before. It imparted a light buzz, but not too much. Could it be enjoyed like regular wine? “A better question,” Julie offered, “is when aren’t we drinking it.” It was perfect for drinking any time of day: warm summer evenings, as an aperitif before dinner, an accompaniment to a late morning brunch.
Julie’s first round of production sold out quickly. Friends, family, and the Dry Farm Wines community couldn’t get enough. It was after this that Julie knew she was onto something, and so did we. She set back to work, creating more inspiring blends based on the same idea.
INSPIRED BY NATURE
In preparation for the next year’s harvest, Julie began dreaming about what else to include in her herbal infusions. She only had to look around her for inspiration: the delicate roses buds opening at the end of each row of grapevines (planted there to show winemakers early signs of possible diseases), the dandelions sprouting up amongst the grass in early spring, and the hops blooming on a friend’s field close by.
In addition to flavor, Julie was interested in exploring the unique energetic qualities and healthful benefits - for each individual herb, and in combination. Lavender has a calming, almost sedative effect, while rose relaxes the nervous system without making one sleepy. Dandelion, with the detoxifying properties and green flavor that Julie adores, could be skillfully paired with the rising energy and crisp flavor of mint and the roundness of tannic hops for an uplifting and refreshing blend. The Elderflower Bubbles, for example, “has a fun party vibe,” according to Julie. You drink this to “feel light, energetic,” at the beginning of an evening, while the Lavender Rose is a good choice for “coming down to rest” at the end of the night.
WITH BUBBLES & WITHOUT
“We started with sparkling [wine]” Julie points out, it’s “so refreshing,” and “really gives life” to the clarity of a single herb infusion, but traditional still wine offered an interesting canvas to play around with more complex herbal combinations. For the sparkling wines, Julie decided to keep things simple - highlight the purity of elderflower for the white, or rose blossom for the red. For the more ethereal still blends, she landed on a blend of dandelion, nettle, mint and hops for the white, and lavender, rose, and nettle for the red - coming full circle back to her original idea of blending nettle tea with wine.
The new drink was given the new name “bolixir,” a combination of “botanical” and “elixir,” which captures the plant-based nature of the drink… as well as something more “magical.” bolixir is wine, but not wine. “It’s something more… emotional,” Julie reflects. When you drink it, she hopes that people will deeply feel the energetics of the herbs and love of her labor in a “f*ck yeah!” kind of way (her words).
To the skeptics - Julie says, “Just taste it.”