##Photo by Tamara Belgard

Uncovering Pét-Nat

Purely unadulterated, raw and a little dirty

By Tamara Belgard

Grab a bottle of Champagne and subtract all the pomp and circumstance. Take away the arrogance, snootiness, superiority, and what are you left with? A playful, non-intimidating yet quirky bottle of bubbly. Enter pétillant-naturel.

Pétillant-naturel, more whimsically known as pét-nat, means “naturally sparkling” in French. Among members of the industry, it refers to an informal, slightly irreverent and possibly enlightening bottle of sparkling natural wine. This Old World, low-tech, artisanal style is enjoying a modern revival practically bubbling over in the global wine market; Oregon is no exception.

Produced in the méthode ancestrale style, pét-nat originated in France’s Loire Valley. It is quite different from — and actually predates — the more widely known and practiced méthode Champenoise style. While bubbles produced using the latter are already prevalent in Oregon, some local winemakers picture pét-nat as a way of returning to and embracing the lesser-known, earlier traditions.

“Really, pét-nat and traditional method aren’t competitors to each other,” Brianne Day of Day Wines explained. “Champagne and méthode Champenoise [sparkling] are so special, so refined, so precise — I love them— but pét-nat is visceral, raw and full of pulsing energy.

“A guitar can be played as a part of a symphony, or it can be shredded; both styles are amazing and valid and marvelous,” she continued. “I think of pét-nat as more of ’shredder’ bubbles and Champagne as more symphonic.”

What exactly makes pét-nat unique? The answer begins with the laws dictating production — rather, the lack thereof. While Champagne has strict rules about which grape varieties can be used, pét-nat can be made from any grape, lending itself to creativity and broader experimentation. Chad Stock of Minimus Wines has crafted five batches of pét-nat since 2013, each highlighting an individual grape variety or a combination.

“I have not yet decided on which option is best suited to producing the best [pét-nat] in Oregon. But I work with more than 30 grape varieties, so expect to see many new versions from me over the next few years.”

Champagne and traditionally made sparkling undergo two rounds of fermentation, one for the base wine and one with an addition of yeast and sugar that create the bubbles. Pét-nat, however, is unsulfured and bottled prior to fully completing the first fermentation, allowing carbon dioxide produced by the natural sugars found in the fruit. Since it’s vinified without additives, some regard it as a more natural reflection of the wine’s region and the variety represented.

What’s the difference in taste experience? Expect a generous fizz, rather than a continuous stream of fine bubbles. Also, pét-nat is generally cloudy due to naturally occurring yeast intentionally left in the bottle; but don’t let that bother you.

Day gently explains, “The extra suspended solids and lees were new to me. I thought the wines were flawed in some way, until the producers described to me how and why it was like that. Then I saw it as something far more pure and unaltered — something very true to the vineyard and cellar.”

Perfection doesn’t necessarily equate with beauty. In the case of pét-nat, these ’imperfections’ add much of the charm.

Typically released early, pét-nats practically burst with exuberance, expressing vibrant, fruit-forward characteristics. They continue to buck tradition — right down to the closure —often bottled with a crown, like a farmhouse ale or cider, instead of a foil-covered cork and metal cage.

When asked about tradition, Stock colorfully articulates, “[Forget] tradition, [forget] breaking tradition and [forget] people who think that we are just doing this to find a voice in the market. Everyone I know who makes pét-nat truly loves wine and makes pét-nat to celebrate wine. We do this because we know how, because we want to and because we have the responsibility to offer delicious wine to people who are listening.”

Technical geek-speak aside, these wines are both immediately satisfying in taste and intellectually stimulating.

“Pét-nats are borderline primal, in the best way,” Stock said. “They’re reminiscent of so many beverages all combined into one. There are associations with cider, bottle-conditioned beer, kombucha (minus the acetic sour taste), fresh-squeezed juice and, of course, sparkling wine.”

Additionally, instead of being an extravagant commodity, pét-nat is reasonably priced. Real Champagne, typically marketed as a luxury and saved for celebrations, is largely out of reach for recreational drinking. Oregon’s own version of Champagne can be expensive, too. Pét-nat, however, is an ideal alternative to those high-priced bubblies.

Local pét-nats have somewhat of a cult following, often selling out before they’re even released to the public. Joseph Pedicini of Montebruno Wine suggests pét-nat flies off the shelves because wine consumers in 2017 are much more open-minded than they were in 2003 when he made his first Oregon wine.

When asked why he makes pét-nat, he answers simply, “Pét-nat always makes people smile. It tastes of sparkling wine and more, with hints of fermentation, and so much life and energy. I love the freshness of the wine and the slightly wild nature of it; it’s just a little unpredictable. Pét-nat is here to stay.”

Tamara Belgard is a freelance writer who explores the Oregon wine scene from her home in S.W. Portland.


Day Wines 2016 Mamacita! Pétillant-Naturel, Applegate Valley

A highly aromatic, zippy blend of Vermentino and Muscat that puts the fun in funky. Tropical pineapple, ripe pear, succulent white peach and a smack of spicy coriander kisses you full on the mouth. Ditch the fancy flutes in favor of jelly jars and match this porch-pounder with a sunny day, good company and salty snack foods like potato chips or fiery wings.

Gamine 2015 Grenache Rosé Pétillant-Naturel, Applegate Valley

A true Cinderella wine: a little bit rags and soot, a soupçon of ball gown and glass slipper. Delicate, yet chic, with flavors of fluffy Meyer lemon mousse, notes of juicy melon and hints of pencil shavings. Pair with pretzel-wrapped “pigs in a blanket” and serve to all your favorite people.

Johan 2015 Pétillant-Naturel Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

Fruity, floral and zippy with layers of fragrant blossoms, watermelon taffy, strawberry, blood orange and white pepper. I liken it to Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting Drink; it may not elevate the body, but it sure will lift the spirit. Serve at your next backyard barbecue with spiced watermelon salad. But be forewarned, it will steal the show!

Minimus 2016 Pétillant-Naturel, Willamette Valley

This adventurous Müller-Thurgau and Grüner Veltliner blend with penetrating minerality, a sturdy backbone of cider apples and lemon biscuits, and a thin thread of tarragon will positively bowl you over. The fine bubbles and delightfully lees-y texture will make you question if it’s really a pét-nat or a méthode Champenoise in disguise. Enjoy a glass (or three) with a decadent lobster roll.

Montebruno 2014 Gewürztraminer Pétillant-Naturel, Columbia Gorge

My latest obsession. Strikingly aromatic with lychee fruit, candied pineapple, honey, ginger and rose petals. Versatile yet rather elegant. Serve with smoked duck and blood orange salad or spiced popcorn and a movie to jazz up a night at home.

Swick 2016 Verdelho Pétillant-Naturel, Columbia Valley

So good, but already sold out (though you still may find a bottle or two around town). Laser-focused acidity and bone dry, enjoy the salinity and grapefruit flavors with perfectly fried chicken at your next picnic. Ask Joe to make more.

Statera EST. Pét-Nat: Click here to more about this wine in an article by Michael Alberty.

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