November 2019 Pét-Nat Wines Sparkle with Personality

Pét-Nat Wines Sparkle with Personality

Pét project: On-trend wines for stocking shelves.
Pét project: On-trend wines for stocking shelves.
Photo by Chris Plavidal, Styling by Heidi Adams 
At once primal and playful, pét-nat is enjoying a modern-day revival.
While it’s been making increasing appearances on American wine shelves, pétillant naturel – which translates to “naturally sparkling” – dates to the early sixteenth century in Limoux, France, when monks were the first to capture bubbles in a bottle. In fact, though it’s sometimes referred to as Champagne’s hipster cousin, pét-nat pre-dates the traditional Champagne method by centuries. With emphasis on the wine’s natural flavors, rusticity, and spontaneous elements, pét-nat has a wild, unpredictable essence that sets its spritzy style apart.

As one of California’s natural-wine pioneers, Jared Brandt, winemaker at Berkeley’s Donkey & Goat winery, was drawn to pét-nats for two reasons: He loves sparkling wine, and he’s committed to making wine with minimal additions and manipulations, allowing the environmental elements to shine through. In 2010, he helped lead the West Coast pét-nat wave with Donkey & Goat’s first pét-nat bottling, using fruit from Conzelman Vineyard in the Anderson Valley to make a natural sparkling chardonnay.

“I feel this site expresses itself best as a pét-nat,” he says. “It’s just a soulful interpretation of the vineyard.”

Since each bottle is its own individual, free-spirited fermentation, pét-nats vary in many ways – some can be hazy or cloudy, and the bubbles take on a more mellifluous fizz. Add the typically lower alcohol content, and pét-nats are perfectly food friendly. “I think the wines are fresh, approachable, and offer that element of surprise – all things that many wine drinkers are seeking today,” Brandt says.

What to pour this season: Pét-nat.
What to pour this season: Pét-nat.
Photo by Chris Plavidal, Styling by Heidi Adams 
“There are so many different styles of pét-nat,” says Chris Brockway, the winemaker for Broc Cellars, another Berkeley winery. Brockway sources fruit from all around California, homing in on offbeat varieties. He made his first pét-nat with picpoul, an obscure blending varietal that hails from southern France, following that with a chenin blanc and a carignan rosé pét-nat made with grapes from old vines in the Alexander Valley. “The lightness and freshness of the style is what people enjoy the most,” he says.

Like other pétillants, his are bottled under a crown cap – similar to craft beer or cider – rather than a cork. But that doesn’t make them any less festive. “Pét-nat starts a party, breaks the ice, and then surprises people so much that it disappears quickly,” says Brockway. “For the holidays it works because it’s not overly complicated or heavy. It’s a wine to lift everyone’s spirits,” he says. “What could be better on the table than that?”

Start the party with these pét-nats.

Grosgrain Vineyards 2018 Lemberger
Kiona Vineyard, Red Mountain, Washington

Made from lemberger, once a potential signature grape for Washington, this wine features aromas of ripe berries and rhubarb.

Donkey & Goat 2018 Chardonnay Lily’s Cuvée
Anderson Valley, California

Wisps of spice and citrus add nuance to the orchard-fruit notes in this whole-cluster pressed wine.

Broc Cellars 2018 Chenin Blanc
Shell Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles, California

Scents of citrus and white flowers run through this wine, rounded with flavors of baked pear and lemon curd.

Gamine 2018 Rosé of Grenache
Mae’s Vineyard, Applegate Valley, Oregon
The fruit for this limited rosé, with vibrant white-blossom aromas and peach flavors, is harvested early to preserve acidity.

Johan Vineyards 2018 Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon

This captivating coral-hued wine has notes of wild strawberries and a hint of earthiness.

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