Bakó Ambrus eponymous brand was started in 2005 as an experiment. Ambrus is a researcher specialized in molecular biology, biochemistry and genetically modified organisms, which makes him very familiar with bacteria, yeast and microorganisms in general. And this extensive scientific knowledge and expertise contributed to his decision to use the most natural processes in winemaking, with the least intervention.
Ambrus moved from his career as a researcher to become a winemaker. Ambrus didn’t see along term fulfillment with laboratory research, in vitro experiments became monotonous for him. Also the city life wasn’t for him, he longed for a rural lifestyle.
As a child Ambrus spent his long summer holidays at his family’s summer holiday home perched on a hillside in Badacsony, near lake Balaton. This family house provided him with his best childhood memories and this is where he found refuge after leaving his career as a researcher.
Bakó Ambrus is based at this family home/winery located against the slopes looking over Lake Balaton. Ambrus owns a 0.7ha vineyard, rents a 1ha vineyard on a long term basis and purchases fruits from 3ha vineyards from several vine growers located around the famous Róza Szegedy house. Local families who have become his friends own the vineyards. They cultivate the vineyards as per Ambrus’ instructions, although they regard him as a ’kind-hearted fool’ at times. The vineyards are made of small plots and are located on the best sites in the area.
The family wine press house dates back from between 1885 and 1902 and belonged to a wine merchant family. Ambrus’ great grandfather purchased the building in 1961.
Ambrus released his first wines as a commercial interest from the 2009 vintage, his first release dates back form 2011. Prior to that he experienced for years with it. In 2012, three years later only, he was already considered as a point of reference for Badacsony wines.
Ambrus only uses indigenous yeast and spontaneous fermentation processes, all wines are entirely made by hand. His aim is to make ’natural wines’ and he strongly believes that wine is primarily made in the vineyard. His philosophy is to work as naturally and with as little intervention as possible. In the vineyard it means no soil cultivation, very little fertilization, only when absolutely necessary and strictly using organic fertilizers. His methods can be assimilated to the ’Lutte raisonnée’ approach. Ambrus aims at producing certified organic wines, however it will take some time and many processes to go through to achieve.
When Ambrus made his first wine in 2005, he had no winemaking tools and no money to purchase barrels, etc. He started in a late 1800’s cellar with early 1900’s tools and he received the support from a PhD grant to pursue his new interest. He decided to use any vessel he had available, such as carboy, to ferment his must. He also had no formal training in winemaking and taught himself through extensive research, books, the Internet and experienced winemakers.
Since his first experiments in 2005 Ambrus has acquired a lot of practical knowledge. The yields are kept very low, between 0.5 and 1.5 kg per vine and yields are not limited by man but by nature. The idea is to make sure that the fruits don’t ripen too fast. Ambrus believes that Badacsony produces some of the best high-quality white wines in Europe, despite being located in a relatively warm area. Lake Balaton climate is relatively warm; it is similar to the Northern Rhône region, but dryer. The south facing hillsides looking on Lake Balaton are protected from the cold winds, autumn and spring frosts and enjoy a warm, mild ‘sub-Mediterranean’ climate. The dark rocks, basalt, absorb and retain warmth through the summer nights. Additional sunlight is also reflected from the lake water onto the vineyards.
Under these climatic conditions, it is a great challenge to preserve natural acidity and avoid an overripe wine. Ambrus mainly works with late ripening varietals; Olaszrizling, Rhine Riesling and Kéknyelű.
At times, Ambrus feels it is best to let a little residual sugar develop for two reasons; the first being that it is the natural state of the wine and it won’t affect the wine negatively, the second is that high alcohol is not a positive component as the finished wines develop some bitterness. A little residual sugar is usually beneficial and will not affect the wine negatively, especially when acid content is already relatively good. Deciding on the optimum harvest time is crucial and Ambrus tastes the grapes from each vineyard religiously in autumn. He believes that both sensorial taste and the chemical results together determine optimum ripeness. If the fruit is chemically correct for harvest but doesn’t taste right, it is not ready for harvest. However if the fruit tastes good but can wait on the vine, the chemical analysis will decide when it is time to harvest.
Ambrus uses a vertical press, pressing is very gentle and it will often take over seven hours to complete a full cycle. Slow pressing allows for natural filtration, gentler extraction and helps obtain more juice purity. The must is settled overnight to achieve a slower and cleaner fermentation process. After settling, the must is kept cool and left to start fermentation spontaneously, this process can take several weeks. Keeping the temperature low is important to preserve the aromas; the entire fermentation process will take several months, up to half a year. Fermentation is done in old oak barrels without adding any sulfur; the wine is naturally protected from oxidation by the gases released through the fermentation process. The use of the barrel will also help develop the wine from the early stages. As a result there is no need for aging on the lees, which means that the wine will have a greater aging potential.
For Bakó Ambrus the meaning of the word ‘Terroir’ encompasses all aspects; soil, exposure, slope, microflora (yeasts), traditional grape varieties and the human component.
Ambrus attempts to express the essence of badacsonyi through Riesling, Olazrizling and kéknyelű. Badacsony wines will typically show floral aromas and high minerality. Ambrus believes that the minerality brings intense structure, concentration and fullness to the wines. The richness is not to the expense of elegance, the approach is soft, and the flavors express the warm climate and maturity combined with high acidity.