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The Allure of Pet-Nats and Piquettes: A Deep Dive Into Traditional French Natural Wines

Photo of a wine glass filled with pét-nat, against the setting sun over the ocean.

Pétillant naturel, or pét-nat for short, is a wine style that's rapidly gaining traction in the modern wine scene, drawing in enthusiasts who crave authenticity and a deeper connection to tradition. This method of winemaking, rooted in French history, offers a unique experience vastly different from that of more conventional modern wines. At Girl Meets Dirt, our love affair with pét-nats led us to release our experimental pét-nats in 2022. These unconventional wines, made from orchard fruits instead of grapes, pay homage to traditional winemaking while showcasing the unique terroir of Orcas Island.

The French History of Pét-Nat

The origins of pét-nat date back to the early days of winemaking in France. Long before Champagne's method became the standard for sparkling wine production, the monks in the monasteries of Saint-Hilaire in the South of France were already producing naturally sparkling wines using what we now call the 'méthode ancestrale'. This technique, which involves bottling wine before it has finished fermenting, allows for a secondary fermentation in the bottle, creating natural carbonation.

Pét-Nat vs. Modern Winemaking

Unlike modern winemaking, which involves adding yeasts and sugar to prompt secondary fermentation, the pét-nat method lets nature take its course. This lack of interference results in a wine that is more unpredictable, more rustic, and often cloudier than its Champagne counterparts. Yet, this is where its charm lies - in its unpretentious simplicity and honest reflection of its place of origin.

Piquettes: The Wine-Maker's Wine

Piquettes have a humble yet fascinating history that dates back centuries, firmly rooted in the winemaking traditions of France. As an ode to resourcefulness, these wines were historically made by farmers and vignerons who found a way to maximize the potential of their grape harvests. After pressing the grapes for their primary wines, the leftover pomace was soaked and fermented to create piquettes, a wine lighter in alcohol and body. These wines were often reserved for the winemakers and their workers, offering a refreshing beverage during long days in the vineyards and cellars.

Piquettes are a beautiful testament to the wisdom of traditional winemakers who understood the value of using every part of their precious harvest. Not only did this process create an additional source of sustenance, but it also promoted a low-waste winemaking practice that we greatly respect and uphold here at Girl Meets Dirt. By capturing the last bit of flavor and fermentable sugars from the grape pomace, piquettes demonstrate a sustainable and resourceful approach to winemaking.

The Flavor Profile of Piquettes

While each piquette has a unique flavor profile depending on the fruit used, they share some general characteristics. These wines tend to be bright, tart, and refreshing, boasting a vivaciousness that is truly delightful to the palate. Despite their lower alcohol content, piquettes are not lacking in complexity or interest. They often carry nuanced notes of the fruit they are derived from, creating a diverse landscape of flavors to explore.

Our own Oh Honey piquette, for example, is a rolling co-ferment of orchard pomace over the long Orcas Island winter, dosed in the spring with Northwest honey for light, crushable bubbles. It presents a pleasingly dry, tropical, and savory profile, making it a wonderful companion to a range of dishes, including pizza, seafood, and anything enjoyed under the sun.

The Lightness and Brightness of Piquettes

A defining characteristic of piquettes is their lower alcohol content compared to other wines. This lighter profile makes them an excellent choice for daytime sipping or occasions when you prefer something a bit less potent. The brightness of these wines, coupled with their effervescence, results in a wine that's not only easy to drink but also versatile in food pairings.

In many ways, the rise in popularity of piquettes today mirrors the renaissance of natural and traditional winemaking techniques. Just like pét-nats, piquettes are gaining recognition for their authentic expression of fruit and terroir, and for the sustainable principles they embody. At Girl Meets Dirt, we are proud to be part of this movement, embracing the traditions of the past as we look to the future of winemaking.

French Traditional Farm Wines and Their Resurgence

Traditional farm wines, made with minimal intervention and often employing ancient techniques, are currently experiencing a significant revival. Wine enthusiasts worldwide are seeking out these honest expressions of terroir, appreciating their rustic charm and the stories they tell of their origins. Our pét-nats, including "Reinette" and "Queen's Cuvée," fall into this category, offering a celebration of Orcas Island's bounty and a reflection of our commitment to minimal intervention in winemaking.

Understanding the Flavor Profile of Pét-Nats

Pétillant naturel wines, or pét-nats, are celebrated for their unique and often intriguing flavor profiles. Unlike the predictable and polished character of many modern wines, pét-nats are marked by a delightful unpredictability. The results of the méthode ancestrale process can vary widely depending on the fruit used, the specifics of the vintage, and even the individual bottle.

In general, pét-nats are known for their vibrant, fresh, and fruity flavors, which can range from tart and tangy to sweet and floral. The naturally occurring carbonation adds a lively fizz that enhances the wine's aromatic qualities and overall palate appeal.

One of the exciting aspects of pét-nats is the array of flavors that can emerge from different fruits. For instance, our Reinette pét-nat, a co-ferment of Bartlett pears with apples, peaches, and rhubarb, exudes a dry, stone fruit aroma.

Wines Similar to Pét-Nats

Pét-nats are often likened to sparkling wines, given their shared effervescence. However, pét-nats tend to be more rustic and less fizzy than traditional sparkling wines such as Champagne or Prosecco. The similarity to Lambrusco, an Italian sparkling red wine known for its casual, fruit-forward appeal, might be more apt in terms of style and substance.

The Girl Meets Dirt Pét-Nat Experience

While our pét-nats are not made in the traditional grape-based style, they are true to the spirit of pét-nat winemaking. We've brought our years of experience working with Orcas Island fruit to these wines, allowing the fruit, and the fruit alone, to shine.

Just as the 'old dames' of Orcas – the trees with roots burrowing for over a hundred years – have inspired us, we aim to inspire you with our wines. Made from the fruits of these same trees, our wines carry a taste of the island's history with every sip. We have replaced context with curiosity, striving to explore what is possible when we let the fruit speak for itself.

Grown on Orcas Island from hand-harvested orchard fruit, our wines are pressed by us, spontaneously fermented, and bottled méthode ancestrale for natural bubbles. Each offering is a testament to the fruit and our commitment to letting nature take the lead. From the tropical, savory notes of "Oh Honey," to the dry stone fruit nuances of "Reinette," and the creamy, tight bubbles of "Queen's Cuvée," our pét-nats invite you to experience a different side of Orcas Island.

At Girl Meets Dirt, our journey into wine is about authenticity, respect for tradition, and love for the land that bears the fruits of our labor. We invite you to join us at the table, and partake in this extraordinary journey.

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