We first met Natalie Albertson at the Women Winemakers Celebration earlier this spring. She makes an amazing pétillant naturel, or pét nat, under her Wildflower Winery label, a very small production winery in Ventura County.
The fun thing is Albertson and Michael both buy albariño grapes from Riverbench Vineyards and Winery, in the Santa Ynez Valley. Albertson also buys chardonnay from Riverbench, which becomes her pétillant naturel. So, when we met up with Albertson again at a winemaker dinner put on by the Riverbench folks for the people who buy their grapes, we couldn’t resist asking her about pét nat.
“It means a wine that was bottled before fermentation completely finished,” Albertson explained. “We did at about one point eight brix or one point five, six and it put a crown cap on it and it finished fermenting inside the bottle and creates those lovely bubbles that we all love.”
Brix being the unit that measures how much sugar there is in a liquid. Zero brix means there is no sugar present. Most grape juice starts fermenting at 20-24 brix, depending on the variety and the planned end result. One point five brix means that fermentation has almost completely finished. Most still wines are aged a little bit in vats or barrels before being bottled so that you don’t get bubbles.
Pét nat is a different process than the famed Methode Champenoise, in which wines that have been completely fermented and somewhat aged get a second bit of sugar and yeast, then are fermented again with caps, which create the bubbles.
What to expect inside the bottle
So, when you see pétillant naturel on a label, Albertson said that you can expect to see some yeast, or lees, the remains of the fermenting process.
“Some fine lees, you know, not not too much. That’s why we decided to disgorge our chardonnay this year. There was just too much, it wouldn’t be enjoyable,” she said. “Sometimes they can be a little little active, a little excited. So carefully, open them in your backyard. There are some that you… have to open in your backyard or your shower because they’re just going everywhere.”
In fact, she has opened, or disgorged, some of her pét nats to release some of the pressure so that when people open them, they don’t lose half the bottle.
She chose to make pétillant naturel for one simple reason.
“I love bubbles. Yeah, it’s just so fun. My first wine was bubbles. It was a champagne or sparkling wine at Christmas,” she said. “You know that it’s for celebration. It’s celebrating a new job. It’s for holiday. It’s gathering with people. It’s lively, you know?”
And that’s pétillant naturel.