Nothing says celebration like champagne, but as far as grape-based refreshment goes, it’s hard to look past the pleasures of pét-nats.
“I generally find them to be immediately smashable drinks,” says Ryan O’Meara of Express Winemakers and one of the local vignerons producing pét-nats. “It’s quality booze without the need for too much deep contemplation.”
Short for pétillant naturel (“natural sparkling” in French), pét-nats are sparkling wines made by bottling the wine before its primary fermentation is completed. As the wine continues to ferment and convert grape sugar into alcohol, the carbon dioxide produced by the process is reabsorbed into the liquid, naturally carbonating it. (In comparison, the bubbles in Champagne and other sparkling wines are created through a variety of methods including manual carbonation and the addition of liqueurs to promote secondary fermentation.)
Although pét-nats might be “new” to many producers and consumers, the style is actually one of the oldest forms of winemaking. As well as being suitable for both red and white grapes, the technique is also prized for its ability to offer an uncensored, lower-alcohol taste of the vineyard almost immediately after vintage.
“Once you put that cap on the bottle, there’s really no controlling what’s going on in there,” says O’Meara. Since 2013, he’s been producing Cheninade, a pét-nat made with, as the name suggests, chenin blanc. “The wine tastes a lot like most grape juice does toward the end of vintage.”
For Budburst owner Rachael Niall, pét-nats are a fun alternative to “serious and somewhat inaccessible” Champagne. “I sense that once people get an understanding of pét-nats and taste a few examples, they’ll see that it’s a sparkling wine style that’s varied, accessible, and damn delicious,” she says.
Budburst held an inaugural Pet Nat Party in September. The line-up was a who’s who of natural winemaking with pét-nats from lo-fi producers such as Brave New Wines, Xabregas and Flor Marche available for tasting.
“A pét-nat party is perfect for Budburst,” says Niall. “We’re serious about wine but don’t necessarily pour ‘serious’ wine. I love wines with a sense of play.”
AJ Hoadley, winemaker at La Violetta wines and arguably the state’s most prolific pét-nat producer, shares Niall’s sentiment. “Pét-nats are fucking awesome for breakfast,” he says.