How Pét-Nat is Made
Pét-nat bubbles are produced by the oldest and least interventional method, méthode ancestrale, which originated in Limoux in the South of France. Pét-nat ways predate bubbly Champagne and bear distinct qualities derived by fermentation in the bottle, generated by yeasts that are native to the vineyard or winery. Because it is bottled under a crown cap (think of a beer bottle) during fermentation, carbon dioxide remains in the bottle, resulting in bubbles. Winemakers don't hand-hold the fermentation process – what happens in the bottle stays in the bottle. This results in a vibrant, lively, alive fermentation process – a method of delivering all that vivacity direct-to-drinker. Flavor profiles vary due to the grape varietal and other conditions, so bottle-to-bottle uniqueness is the rule.
Attractive to Wine-Lovers and Winemakers
Ian Brand is a Monterey winemaker that earned his chops at Bonny Doon Vineyard and Big Basin Vineyards. Since then he's opened his own shop Le Pe'tit Paysan where he finds inspiration from Central Coast farmland. He tends towards challenging (his term) vineyards that allow for a ton of character in his wines.
Brand describes the pét-nat experience, "Pét-nats are sparkling wines made by putting juice that hasn't quite finished fermenting into a capped bottle. They're less stuffy and less expensive than méthode champenoise sparklers, and more endearing and more character-full than most of those made through the charmat method (like prosecco). Part of pét-nat's beauty is the low-input, hands-off technique which can lead to wildly disparate results even in the same lot, sometimes dry and alluring, sometimes off-dry and funky (but still potentially alluring), almost as if the surprise is part of the celebration." Less stuffy and expensive comes at a price-tag generally under $40. Alcohol also figures on the low end, typically 11-13%.
Folktale Winery and Vineyards in Carmel makes wine from their estate vineyards in Arroyo Seco AVA of Monterey County. Folktale Winemaker David Baird shepherds a pét-nat from Grenache Blanc, available in early 2018.
Regarding the style, Baird shares, "To preserve the natural aromatics, we fermented this wine as cold as possible (around 50F). The result is a true pét-nat; it's yeasty, slightly cloudy, with wonderfully textured bubbles." There's an important distinction in these notes – yeasty and slightly cloudy. These elements arise in the bottle from spent yeast cells which aren't removed or filtered from the wine.
In recent years, pét-nat was been called a hipster's wine, a minimalist's wine, a naturalist's wine. Still they are approachable, and this friendliness casts a shadow of excitement on winemakers looking to try something new that also has appeal in the industry. Not that there are ever any guarantees in winemaking, but the potential for inconsistency (for better or worse) in this method is quite high – attractive to winemakers that like a challenge.
Says Baird of the Folktale pét-nat, "We have never made a wine like this, so the challenge was hard to pass up! It was an opportunity to experiment and play with the new technique, and we’re pleased with the result. We wanted to make a wine that was fun, different, and memorable and I think we hit the nail on the head."
California Pét-Nat Bottles to Try (get 'em while they last)
As of writing, the following bottles are still available. Much of the 2016 and earlier crop of pét-nat is sold out, a sign that consumers are loving this stuff - look for 2017 releases.
Brix 2016 Cobolorum Riesling Pét-Nat: This Santa Barbara Reisling is the fourth release from this producer who notes, "this vintage is a good deal calmer than the last". $25 from the winery
Birichino 2013 Malvasia Bianca Pétulant Naturel: Another bottle from Monterey, this is made from the softly fragrant Malvasia Bianca, a grape widely-planted in Italy. $22 from the winery. Note: They also make a still version.
Donkey + Goat 2016 Blanca Pet Nat: This is the sparkly version of the popular still Pinot Gris, from the biodynamic Filigreen Farm in Anderson Valley. $32 from the winery.
Field Recordings 2017 Dry Hop Pet Nat: This bottle comes from Andrew Jones who makes Central Coast single vineyard wines with super creative labels. $25 from the winery
Jill writes about wine (travel + food too) as a freelancer in addition to her blog, L'occasion, which is the winner of the Best Overall Wine Blog and Best Writing on a wine blog. She is also a fiction writer. Find her on twitter and instagram @jillbarth.