By now, you have probably noticed a new style of wine that has taken the wine industry by storm. You are seeing more and more bottles that are slightly fizzy, have typically bright and cloudy wine, with bold, colourful labels. These funky fresh wines are popping up everywhere as winemakers keep pace with the ever-growing demand for this hot trend coveted by Canadian consumers.
So, what exactly is pet-nat? Pet-nat is an abbreviation of pétillant naturel. While pétillant means “fizzy”, the bubbles are not quite as present as they are in the usual sparkling wines that you know. These bubbles are small and subtle, as pet nat is made with less atms (atmospheres of pressure) in the bottle. This result is due to a natural occurrence of fermentation that happens after bottling known as Méthode Ancestral.
The latter half of the name – natural refers to natural winemaking techniques. This includes no additives, such as S02 and other agents used to clean, stabilize and preserve the wine. The outcome is a fresh wine that’s meant to be drunk young, but also may have some reductive qualities or other wine flaws picked up along the winemaking process. Fining or filtration of the wine is also a process that’s commonly left out, which results in the cloudy appearance, and in almost all cases, sediment.
With this production method being made and drunk in France for centuries (dating back to the 1500’s!), one would wonder how it has just most recently started making its presence in Canada.
The demand for both sparkling wine and natural wine separately have been steadily climbing at an impressive rate. Sparkling wine sales in Canada have risen over $210 million dollars in the last decade, while natural wine sales have also seen an incredible boom by our province’s biggest wine buying demographics; millennials and gen Xers.
Prince Edward County, Ontario’s coolest wine region, seems to be a hot spot for pet-nat production. This funky and refreshing wine style is quickly gaining popularity here. Winemakers are innovative and eager to give consumers an out-of-the-box experience, while showing off their unique terroir.
Winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois of Trail Estate has done a fantastic job of harnessing the wonderfully weird characteristics of this wine style in the County. Trail Estate has had a natural wine philosophy for years, so pet-nat just seemed to fit the bill. Their 2020 pet-nat is a field blend, with muscat ottonel and pinot gris as the prominent grape varietals. This vintage has intriguing and concentrated flavours of grapefruit, lemon, toffee and mint, with an invigorating long, citrusy finish.
Dan Sullivan, owner and winemaker at Rosehall Run, began making his own version of pet-nat and released his first vintage in 2019 that had nine different varietals! The 2020 version, doing a complete 180, is made with 60 percent cider and 40 percent of estate muscat ottonel. It exudes fresh fruit and floral aromas of peach, orange, jasmine, and elderflower. The wine is refreshing and light, with delicate fruit flavours and a crisp finish. A highly approachable and easy drinking version of this style that would suit those just beginning to explore the natural wine movement.
Traynor Vineyard has also jumped on the pet-nat train with great success. In 2020, they made three completely different expressions of this wine style in a red, white, and rosé format. Their white pet-nat is made with sauvignon blanc, while their red version is made from pinot noir, gamay, and vidal. Lastly, the rosé, is made with 100 percent gamay. This wine was made on a whim when winemaker Mike Traynor and team wanted to capture the incredibly fragrant aromas of cotton candy, fresh strawberries, and rhubarb of their gamay noir rosé by bottling it in the middle of fermentation.
What is wonderful about pet-nat in Prince Edward County, and Canada, is that there is no governance over grape varietals used for this style of winemaking. The wines can differ wildly, and in turn, this allows free reign for wineries to continue to experiment with a world of new flavours for consumers to explore.
Leah Spooner has a diploma in Tourism Management that includes Wine Appreciation. She headed straight into the wine industry that she’s now been a part of for 16 years. Leah obtained certification from the Wine Council of Ontario (now Ontario Craft Wineries), and after achieving her Sommelier L1, she made her way to WSET3. Along the way, she has added a South African Wine certification, Canadian Wine Scholar, and is currently working on her French Wine Scholar certification. She currently manages a wine review page on Instagram – @leahspooner_wine, and is one half of the Canadian wine critic page @the_winepress.